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bad parenting, winter break edition

My kids are on winter break, which is two weeks in duration but feels like it’s not a day less than 57. We are currently on day 7 and have another week to go. We’ve made gingerbread houses, gone to the playground, shot Nerf guns, constructed Legos. And then it was December 26th and we ran out of things to do. So we bowled, one day. Finn’s preferred method of bowling is to heave the bowling ball as hard as he can into the ground right at his feet, but he got the job done with the help of some bumpers. Tate played with a ramp and doubled my score.

Flush with success from the bowling, the next day, I suggested roller skating. Tom cringed and gave me one of those looks that indicates that he wants to say no but is powerless to do so in the face of my enthusiasm, which can morph very quickly into rage when challenged. Still, he tried: “I think maybe we should go ice skating instead? It’s easier.”

I humphed. Easier for whom, exactly? Tom grew up in Michigan where everyone ice skates from an early age. I ice skated for the first time when I was 24 and almost broke both ankles, which was an unpleasant surprise given that Koreans are historically very good at Olympic short track. Roller skating, however—now that was the stuff. I grew up skating at the Skate World out in Hillsboro, and I was really, really good. I mean, not to brag, but I was shooting the duck and skating backwards and I hokey pokey’ed on wheels even better than I did in regular shoes.

In spite of all that, in the face of Tom’s doubt, I wavered. The ice skating rink was much closer, and also inside this mall, which I love. But no. I’m not in the business of doing things I suck at in my leisure time. “The ice is cold when you fall,” I said, with an edge of steel in my voice. “I think we should go roller skating.” So we went roller skating. Not just us and our hapless children, but with poor Aunt Susan, Uncle Matt, and Grandma in tow.

The first sign of trouble at the rink came when we were handed our skates at the rental counter. It was comforting, in a way, to realize that roller skates had evolved not at all in the twenty years since I’d last skated. Tate’s pair weighed like ten pounds, which is approximately a third of his body weight. I shrugged off the first seeds of doubt and strapped them on. And Tate seemed excited. All three of the men in my family have the trait where they can picture themselves doing something before they actually do it, and they are AWESOME in their mind’s eye. Once he had his wheels on, Tate was ready to roll.

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Until he moved his legs. He fell like eighty times and we were still on the carpet in the rental area. I started to sweat a bit, but laughed and soldiered on. I’d chosen roller skating when everyone else wanted to ice skate, and what that meant was that by God, these boys were going to skate if it killed me. I grabbed Tate under his armpits and skated him to the rink between my legs.

We gingerly rolled onto the rink and attempted to merge into traffic. If you’ve not had the pleasure of skating or skiing with a kid between your legs, it’s a fascinating lesson in physics. Your kid will put all of his torso weight backwards and lean into you, which propels their bottom half forward, so that the skis or wheels shoot forward at a faster speed than either of your bodies. Too complicated? Picture Tate, laying almost on his back, being held up solely by my hands under his armpits. From a distance it probably looked like I was pushing a wheelbarrow. We made it one lap around and my quads were on fire. I was sweatier than I’ve ever gotten in hot yoga.

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I looked around for Tom and Finn. Surely they were having better luck. I spotted them across the rink. Finn was between Tom and Aunt Susan, pulling on both sets of grown-up arms in an effort to avoid falling down. Tom shot me a look that said “Welcome to the hell you have created.” Yikes. I left Tate with Grandma and skated over to them. I took Finn’s hands from the front and skated backwards while pulling him forward. He was skating! At least for a few seconds. And the look he gave me from those amazing brown eyes—hope, elation—is what will stick with me from our otherwise traumatic roller skating experience. Not my back, which I’m pretty sure I threw out, or the image of Tom, powerless to stop, running a kid into the wall and shouting “I’m sorry!!” over his shoulder.

Ok, maybe I’ll have two images that stick with me.

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the best of the season

I like creativity. But I crave order. And nowhere is this more apparent than during our annual holiday cookie bake. Linds comes over, for a full day. We bake approximately 400 cookies. We wrap our precious booty in tins and cookie boxes. We are a FORCE. The day requires coordination and two people who have cooked together enough to have figured out a rhythm.

This year, my boys wanted to help decorate the cookies. But I am very specific about my cookies, having learned years ago from the best of the best, my sister-in-law Susan. I strive for elegance, consistency, and precision in my cookie decorating. I abhor cutesy cookies and stick to a limited palette of holiday-appropriate colors. My kids don’t care about any of that. They just want to slide their feet around in flour, eat raw cookie dough, and sprinkle stuff.

Tate wanted to decorate a cookie. He ignored the red and green sprinkles we’d laid out, and did his own thing. And the end result was my worst holiday cookie nightmare, but it’s alright. It’s the holidays. He can have his blue and pink cookie. But I have to do my thing too. And I have a cookie platter to worry about, and my platter doesn’t do blue and pink. So I admit that I made Finn eat Tate’s cookie first.

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It’s been a stellar December. My husband gave into two years of begging and went to a Zumba class with me today. It took approximately 45 minutes of psychological warfare but I got the job done by requesting his presence at Zumba as my Christmas gift. Having given in, he shook his head and muttered under his breath as he slowly pulled on his gym clothes. “I am a sad, sad man.” Climbing into the car, he looked me dead in the eyes and said, accusingly, “Men all over the world have lost something today.” He was so down about it that I almost called the whole thing off, because Zumba is not a downer. It’s a party. But we made it to class. He stood in the back and I was worried he’d try to escape but he grinned throughout the hour and I grinned too, watching his long arms flail around in the mirror.

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What’s not to grin about? He loves me more than his pride. For that and so much more, I, in turn, love him more than is rational. And permit me this moment of emotion–love really is the best Christmas gift of all.

Happy holidays everyone.

full house

It’s the holidays and our house is bursting at the seams. Cuz has been living with us since September; my Mom is visiting from Seoul through January; Tom’s family arrives in a matter of days.

It’s all good. I say that to myself a lot these days. Like a prayer.

December started with a healthy dose of fear. Fear for everyone’s sleep, for example. Our house was built in 1910 and it features the world’s creakiest hardwood floors. On the mornings when I leave for yoga at 5:30 am, I have to walk from the third floor to the first floor, without waking Tate, who is a light morning sleeper.

The most distressing mornings are when we wake up and we can tell that Tate’s been up for hours, playing by himself. If we’re lucky, he hasn’t crapped his pull-up and spread his business all over the house. Last week he came upstairs at 6:30 am and haughtily informed us that there was poop in the playroom, as if it had been deposited there by someone else’s ass. Anyway, what was I talking about? Right, my floors. When I tiptoe downstairs for yoga I am careful to shuffle and slide across the floor in an irregular rhythm, kind of like how the Fremen walked across the sand in Dune, to avoid waking the terrifying sandworms. Sandworms have nothing on pre-dawn Tate.

Now that I have semi-permanent houseguests, I don’t just have Tate to worry about. We also have to try to avoid waking Cuz and my mom. Cuz, after three months in Oregon, has just recently adjusted to Cuz Standard Time (CzST), which sits somewhere between PST and EST, and means that she wakes up at 9:30 AM most mornings. My mom wakes, I believe, somewhere around the same time (MoST). My boys, given ideal circumstances, wake up at about 6:30 AM. You do the math. If you have boys, you know how difficult it is to keep them quiet in the morning. We can’t even turn on the TV, because no TV before school is pretty much the only Montessori guideline we manage to observe with rigor at home.

We all do what we can. Tom and I beg and cajole. Cuz and my mom wear earplugs, and have complained not once about the noise.

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The thing is, we’ve settled into a rhythm, this full house. On Finn’s birthday earlier this month, we were all here to share shabu shabu and ogle Finn’s gift from Grandma—a printing calculator!—and all that extra love made his birthday so much better.

Cuz moved to our uncle’s house in Vancouver a week ago to free up some space for Tom’s mom, who arrives tomorrow. We thought we’d be glad for the reprieve, but we all miss her. Tom misses his TV buddy. I miss having someone around who eats vegetables with gusto, or who eats vegetables, period. Tate will occasionally bolt upright while playing with his Legos to ask, “Where’s Aunt Bora?” And even Finn misses Cuz. Finn and Cuz have had some epic power struggles over the last few months. We think Finn is confused about Cuz’s role as an authority figure because she kind of looks like a kid, despite being 26. But they’ve come a long way from those early days.

On the way to school this morning, Finn asked when Cuz was “coming home.” Dunno, I said. “Shall we go get her?,” I asked. Finn gave a firm nod. “Yes,” he said.

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the original

Last week, I got a photo via text, from Tom.

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The text was immediately followed by an angry call. “I’m at American Apparel, and their bowties are clip-ons, Yoona.” Tom had wanted a velvet bowtie for a holiday party, and I remembered seeing some at American Apparel, so I’d sent him there. “I can’t wear a clip-on bowtie, for chrissake. People will think I can’t tie a bowtie!” I blinked. I’d honestly never considered that particular fashion faux pas before.

I let him continue. I sensed there was more to this call than just the bowtie.

“ALSO, what the f*ck, they have like a hundred of my watch on sale.” The anger in his voice was palpable, so I proceeded with care. “Tom, calm down. Which watch are you talking about?” “My black Casio watch,” he bit out. “And my calculator watch too!!” Ah. His precious calculator watch. This was indeed serious.

About a year ago, I took delivery of a small package from Amazon, addressed to Tom. I was intrigued, as Tom never orders anything for himself. Actually, I was shocked that he’d figured out how to order something online, as Tom uses the intraweb for one purpose alone: to check scores on ESPN. I opened the box and found an ugly plastic watch inside, with a receipt showing that Tom had purchased it for about $17. A few weeks later, another Amazon package arrived for Tom. I opened it to find another black plastic watch. And this one had—wait for it—a calculator for a face. Tom usually wore the plain black Casio but would bring out the calculator watch for special occasions. I’d catch him standing in the closet in his boxers looking from one black Casio to the other black Casio, undecided. Not every occasion called for the calculator watch, he would tell me. When he chose the calculator watch, he’d wear it with his sleeve rolled up, offering to calculate tips after dinner and then cursing when his fingers, too large for the tiny little numbers, couldn’t punch out the right keys.

Back to American Apparel. “Babe. Did you think Casio only made and sold one of your watch?,” I asked. Having vented most of his frustration, Tom had already calmed down. “Of course not!,” he said, in a manner that made me suspect that he had thought exactly that. “I just don’t want everyone to know how f*cking cool my watch is.”

Guess the secret’s out.

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the elf on the GD shelf

The Elf on the Shelf. Either you’ve wrestled with one in your life, or you have friends on FB who are wrestling with one and lashing out by posting photos of their elves doing unsavory things. Either way, the epidemic refuses to be contained.

The EOTS is a small bendy elf figure that “watches” your kids and supposedly flies back to the North Pole every night to rat them out to Santa. The idea is to trick your kids into behaving less like wild animals throughout the month of December than would otherwise be the norm.

Simple enough premise, right? Right. Personally the thing I dislike most about the EOTS is that I didn’t invent it. I’ll give credit where credit is due, and whoever invented this thing and then boxed it up for sale is a freaking genius. Because once you buy one, you’re committed to an annual tradition that inspires such dread that you’d swear the thing was created by Satan himself, if that sentiment didn’t seem so anti-Christmas. You hate it so much that you can’t help talking about it, and then other innocents go out and buy one for their families out of sheer curiosity, and pretty soon, you’re looking at world domination.

Our EOTS is named Rindy. Finn named him two years ago when he was four and that’s all I have to say about that corny name. Personally I’d have gone with “Succubus” or “Evil Malingerer,” but Finn wanted to write “Rindy” down in the little space provided for the elf’s name in the associated EOTS hardcover book, and that was that. The doll itself has a vintage charm that in the light of early morning looks positively demonic. Spindly little legs and arms and a face dominated by large cracked-out eyes, the better to watch your kids. The EOTS is creepy enough that I’m always nervous that I’ll come downstairs in the morning and Rindy will actually be running around, rearranging ornaments, or that he will swivel his head towards me and giggle, “Yoona, you’ve been a verrrrrry naughty girl!”

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The EOTS has to be moved every night, to maintain the fiction that he flew back to the North Pole at night and flew back for a new day of surveillance and tattling. But by bedtime, Tom and I are so tired and depleted of mental resources that we always forget to move Rindy before we go upstairs, which means that when 6:00 AM rolls around and we awaken to the peaceful sound of Finn screaming at Tate to get out of his room, one of us has to race down to the first floor and move Rindy before the kids make it downstairs. We have forgotten to move him a couple times and Tom had to spin a complicated yarn about Rindy choosing the same spot as the day before because he really liked the view. Ahhh. Nothing says Christmas like a web of lies.

Here’s the other thing about moving the EOTS: you can’t just cram him anywhere. With the EOTS, placement is all. He has to be high enough that the kids can’t touch him, because imagine the hysteria that would ensue if someone accidentally jostled the EOTS and he fell lifeless to the floor. That has never happened but you can be damned sure that I’m neither emotionally nor intellectually equipped to explain the situation to my kids, if it ever does.

In moving the elf, you also have to be careful to orient the EOTS’s eyes towards the space in the room where people would normally hang out. I learned this the hard way when I told Tate that Rindy would tell Santa if he didn’t eat his eggs. Tate shrugged. “Rindy’s not looking at me.” I looked up and saw that Tom had placed Rindy on top of a painting, with eyes facing towards the windows. Shit! Geez Tom, do I have to do everything??

Finn’s six now but he’s still on board with Rindy. Let’s face it, Finn would be on board with Strawberry Shortcake if she led to presents. If I need the EOTS to help keep anyone in line, it’s Tate, who approaches life as if he is Godzilla and the rest of us are the cowering city of Tokyo. But of course Tate is immune. Last week, he walked past the EOTS, muttering to himself. “Stupid Rindy.” I started to tell Tate that Santa wasn’t going to be happy that he said “stupid,” but I didn’t have the heart to continue the charade.

2012 may be curtains for our elf.

yoona karenina

It’s one thing to read authors like Solzhenitzyn and Henry Roth in the halcyon days of college, when life is pretty much a carnival. It’s another thing entirely to read depressing books when you are out in the real world, experiencing depressing things as they happen in your own life. That observation explains why I haven’t read a real book in ages. But now I’m older and starting to worry that my brain is atrophying. So I’m taking myself back to school.

The reading of serious books is something that requires practice, and given that I’ve mostly read legal textbooks and romance novels for the past ten years, re-entry into the world of literature has been a brutal slog. I started with one of my brother’s favorites, The Wild Palms, by Faulkner, because it is relatively thin and also sounds like a romance novel. In fact, I think I’ve read a different book called Wild Palms, that took place in Miami. I think it was written by Jackie Collins. Anyway, this Wild Palms was nothing like that Wild Palms. Faulkner’s Wild Palms was trying to tell me serious things via metaphor and allusion that I was no longer well-equipped to understand. Plus, it was super boring. I tried not to feel that I was stupider than I remembered, and went back to square one. I needed something more plot driven, more character-based, more…romantic. Something like Return of the Native, or Edith Wharton-y, or…Wuthering Heights. I love Wuthering Heights. I’m not sure if Bronte ever says it outright in the book, but you just know Heathcliff is one hunky piece of ass.

Anyway, the good thing about serious books you might otherwise forget about is that they often get made into movies. As soon as I saw the trailer for Anna Karenina with Keira Knightley in that fur hat, I remembered. Tolstoy! Of course! I had never read much of the Russians in school, probably because both my parents loved Dostoyevsky. On TV, the book looked good. The people dancing in the ballroom! The snow! The clothes! That settled it. If the book was anything like the trailer for the movie, I knew it would be my perfect entry back into the types of books I wouldn’t be embarrassed to leave out for the housekeeper to see.

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So, the book. It’s quite good. It helps that the people who translated my version (Pevear and Volokhonsky) know how to keep a story moving. I stalled at page 17 or so for a couple months, but once I got past the first few chapters, I was super into it. Anna is basically a selfish wench and you can’t help feeling sorry for her poor humiliated husband, especially because her lover Vronsky is SUCH A LOSER. I mean, if there’s a fault with the book, it’s that Anna throws her son away for the 19th-century equivalent of Justin Bieber. The real dreamboat in the book is Levin, the earthy, anti-social idealist who can’t help idealizing the concept of romantic love. The worst thing about the movie, after 1) how ugly they made poor Jude Law and 2) the unfortunate blond moustache they cast as Vronsky, is 3) the weird redheaded guy they cast as Levin. I’m married to a guy who was born a redhead, so I’m not knocking red hair. It’s just that Levin can’t be a redhead. Clive Owen would have been a good Levin. Clive Owen would be a good anything.

Anyway. The project’s working. My book reading muscles are flexing after years of stasis. I can feel myself picking up on underlying themes, and feeling a reawakening appreciation for the written word. Describing Levin’s feelings toward Kitty, Tolstoy writes:

“He knew so well this feeling of Levin’s, knew that for him all the girls in the world were divided into two sorts: one sort was all the girls in the world except her, and these girls had all human weaknesses and were very ordinary girls; the other sort was her alone, with no weaknesses and higher than everything human.”

That’s exactly how Tom feels about me! Who couldn’t appreciate writing like that? There’s a reason they call ’em classics.

downers: advent calendars

There’s always a wide chasm between my aspirational parenting and my parenting reality, and that chasm is neatly embodied in our advent calendar. I didn’t have an advent calendar growing up, so they were foreign to me from the get-go. But I saw this cute felt number in a Pottery Barn Kids catalog when I was pregnant and had to have it. The only time I respond to the emotional┬ámanipulation of Pottery Barn Kids, by the way, is when I am pregnant or newly delivered of child. During such times, I’m a pungent stew of hormones and neediness, and sometimes the only thing that can make it better is to buy something cutesy and then monogram the shit out of it.

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So, back to the calendar. I bought it with only the vaguest notion of what an advent calendar means, or entails. All I knew was, if other kids had these things, my kids weren’t going to go without. Our calendar is displayed prominently in our dining room, across from my seat at the table, where it sits in silent judgment of my deficient mothering. The first problem with the advent calendar is that there are so many days in December. I know it’s 25 days, but it literally feels like December is seven years long when you are trying to figure out unique gift concepts for each pocket.

And about those pockets. The pockets on mine are approximately 2 inches by 3 inches, and sewn flat. I also have two kids, so I have to fit two of the item into each pocket. To give you a rough idea of how much the dimensions of those pockets limit my options, here’s a list of the things I have found that can actually fit into those pockets.

1. Andes mints (2)

2. Starburst (2)

3. Quarters (2)

4. Peanuts in the shell (2, but very tight squeeze)

5. Binder clips (2, the small size)

6. Splenda (2 packets)

Given these kinds of options, my kids would be happy if all 25 pockets had Andes mints or Starburst in them, no question. But I can’t live with that. I just can’t. For starters, I’m not sure Tate knows how to eat a Starburst yet. I sat down to dinner and found an oleaginous pink square with bite marks, stuck to my placemat. And what would 25 days of sugar teach them, anyway? That Jesus wants them to have candy? That their mom lacks creativity, and sufficient motivation?

So I’m forced to spend my downtime thinking of things to stick in those pockets. I went shopping today with my friend Alena and all I could think about is that advent calendar with all its empty pockets. So annoying. And that’s why I’m so pleased with tomorrow’s selection, which are free sample atomizers from the Nordstrom perfume counter, two of which slide into the pocket for December 4th as if they were made for it. I think Finn is really going to dig the Tom Ford White Patchouli, because he’s really my glam boho at heart. And definitely the Balenciaga for Tate. “A fragrance that is mysterious and fragile, yet leaves a lasting trail.” Tate is all about a lasting trail of odors. He’s going to love it.

Sigh. Just 21 days to go. Please help.