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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.


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.


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.

26 Comments Post a comment
  1. Wonderful post & great tribute to how important she is and how much you value her in your life… sweet & thought-provoking post…

    October 1, 2012
  2. Becca #

    Oh Yoona. I could barely make it through your post. As the only member of my family on this whole continent, I feel a similar sense of deep loss and loneliness at times. There’s nothing like family, and nothing like home…wherever that is. Yet there’s that fiery adventurous part of me too….I’m going to Africa for Christmas to visit my brother, sis in law and two adorable nephews! I can’t wait!
    Standing with you in the ache of separation that never quite goes away.

    September 30, 2012
  3. Such a sweet and lovely post.

    Parting ways with a loved one, no matter the circumstances, is always so hard. As you know, I just parted ways with my daughter. Granted she’s only 6 hours away, not half a world. Still, my best advice is that Skype will be your friend. I had no idea Skype could make me feel so much better. Hearing AND seeing her laugh, those tiny facial expressions and sighs that say it all . . . it’s making life so much better and her absence so much easier than I imagined.

    Will be thinking of you . . .

    September 28, 2012
  4. Loretta #

    Please convey our best wishes to your mother. Seoul is indeed raging fun — she will have a great time. Come to Asia, with Finn, Tate, and Tom, and do stop by Hong Kong too — we’re a close second to Seoul. šŸ™‚

    September 28, 2012
  5. Helen #

    Really beautiful. And something she can take with her to Korea, no packing needed.

    September 27, 2012
  6. Misha #

    I do not consider myself an emotional person in general but this really touched me yoona, you are a great writer.

    September 25, 2012
    • thanks misha. hard for me to read it, so i’ll take your word. šŸ™‚

      September 26, 2012
  7. thevirtualrealityofstaci #

    awww you made me tear up a lot. I loved the Tate Art Installation.

    September 25, 2012
    • it must be his montessori background but the dude loves nothing more than arranging things in a tableau. fascinating to watch

      September 26, 2012
  8. No matter how old we are, we are still that selfish child that demands our parents to always be there for us. We are resentful that they want to do something for themselves, even when we know we should be more mature and graceful about it.

    September 25, 2012
    • yes, it’s true. this whole process has been about a reversion to that needy child that i was, and have been, periodically

      September 26, 2012
  9. gulgun #

    As a fellow child of immigrants, I relate to having a parent leave. My dad moved to Turkey a few years ago. I felt sad when he left. But I also felt sad for him while he was here in the US, away from his own family of origin and comforts. I envy those who live near their parents and grandparents. Belonging is such a hard concept when your family is divided by language, culture and customs. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    September 24, 2012
    • it’s interesting to me that the longer one stays in a new country, the more it can make one long for “home.” you’d think it would not happen that way. says something about the power of our roots

      September 26, 2012
  10. I look at that photo of your Mom with…you? I look and I see you in her eyes and in her smile. I see you in the delight she shares with and for the tiny life she is holding.

    I believe she knows you will never let any amount of geophysical distance between you matter more than the love you share. I believe she understands you will work to stay close with her in all the ways you can, and to visit her whenever either of you needs. Or whenever either of you simply wants it to happen.

    I believe she has watched you with your husband, watched you with your sons, and knows in her heart that however much you think you need her? You have made your own family. She needs you just as much as you need her. You will always always have her in your heart and you will always, always, be central to her life – with – or without her physically living nearby.

    She trusts you, Yoona. She trusts in you not to let distance come between you in any but the most trivial ways. That is the only way she could or would ever leave.

    You honor her and your shared love by letting her go to your brother. However much it hurts.

    You honor us with your honesty. Thank you for that.

    September 24, 2012
    • thank you for your wise comment. it’s true. she knows i am going to be ok. because i will. she would not leave me otherwise. and i would not want her to sacrifice her happiness for mine

      September 26, 2012
  11. Ashleigh #

    This was so sad, yet the writing was SO GOOD. I can completely empathize with you. I feel a sense of “why did I leave her?” too sometimes because my mom is now a plane ride away. But I find happiness counting down the days until I can move back to PDX and have her near.

    (And I loved the scrunchie Tate was wearing. He’s bringing it back.)

    September 24, 2012
    • Tate is totally bringing back the scrunchie. By the way, I struggled with it, and in the end, decided that scrunchie and scrunchy look exactly equally ridiculous. As if simply BEING a scrunchy/scrunchie was not undignified enough, but to be called something so stupid. I am momentarily diverted from feeling bad for myself, to feeling bad for the scrunchie/scrunchy

      September 24, 2012
      • Ashleigh #

        You are hilarious. I wish I could be a fly on the wall in your brain.

        October 3, 2012
  12. hallerwoman #

    Once she reads this, she simply won’t be able to go. Incredibly sad for you and yet, excited for your Mom on her new adventure. At a minimum, we now have Skype and other things that make the world feel a little less vast.

    September 24, 2012
    • Just so. I am excited for her too, and for Mike, who will have her close after being an ocean away for so many years. Which makes it all a little easier. And yes, we will all have to get familiar with Skype. XO

      September 24, 2012
  13. This totally made me well up. I lived far from my mom for seven years and now I’m back to being just a twenty minute drive away and I will NOT TAKE KINDLY to the day that that changes.

    September 24, 2012
    • here’s me hoping you’ll always have her nearby

      September 24, 2012
  14. Pat Warren #

    I am weeping….. I thought of my sweet Mom that i left behind in Hawaii when I was 23. Loved this post!!

    September 24, 2012
    • pat, sometimes i feel like growing up is all about dealing with loss. leaving, and being left behind. doesn’t make it any easier…xo

      September 24, 2012
  15. Min #

    Oh Yoona, this is one of my favorites so far. So beautifully written.

    September 24, 2012

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