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Posts from the ‘relationships’ Category

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.


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.


the original

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


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.


the dark side

When my older kid Finn finds a topic of interest, he can cling to it like nobody’s business. So it has been with the idea of death. He asks about death a lot, which began, at first, as an innocuous obsession with people’s ages.

He asks me every single day how old I am. He knows how old I am. He also knows I hate to say the number, which feels like a cold slap in the face every time I say it. But he keeps asking, and I keep answering. It’s like a security blanket for him. Finn also correlates height with age, meaning that he was absolutely floored when Tom informed him, indignantly, that he was NOT the oldest person on our block. “What about Dennis? He has grandkids, for God’s sake. You think I’m older than DENNIS??” Finn squared his shoulders and gave a mulish expression. “You’re taller than Dennis, Daddy.”

The death thing would not bug me so much except that it was only recently that the thought really hit me that I will die one day. If that sounds strange to you, perhaps you’ve not had your moment. I had lunch with my friend Harry and he’s my age. He had his moment recently too, so maybe 35 is when shit gets real. People I love have died, but until that day that I drove my car on Burnside right past Powell’s, it never really sunk in that I would cease to exist one day, and that the earth would keep turning. I felt like my lungs were collapsing, and could not get air. So this was what it felt like, to be confronted with one’s mortality! I felt so intellectual, so French—like a baguette. Anyway, since that day, it’s been harder to hear Finn’s questions about death, especially this one: “When will you die, Mommy?” He doesn’t even have the decency to sound bummed when he asks.

Finn’s lovely teacher Stephanie tells us that an obsession with death can be common at this age. And I believe it. But I also believe Finn might be a little more obsessed than usual, because both of his grandfathers died before he was born. In an effort to make them real to him, we talk about them sometimes, which inevitably leads to the reality that they are not present, and that we cannot know them as we know our other family members.


On our way to the laundromat last week, Finn peered at me through the rearview mirror, from behind his large glasses, which tend to make him look, in such moments, like a curious owl. “What day did your daddy die, Mommy?” “May 16th, buddy,” I answered. “No, Mommy. What day of the WEEK. You know, like Monday, Friday…” I stopped to think. I remembered that I’d been out late with friends the night I heard, at a Denny’s in West Lebanon, New Hampshire. I didn’t like to think about that night. It felt like poking at an open wound with a knife. I remembered dropping the phone and running down the dorm hallway to pound on my friend’s door. I remembered the kindness of the ex-boyfriend I’d recently broken up with, who appeared at the airport in Boston and held me tight. I remembered flying home in a trance, and being picked up in Portland, not by my dad—who was always there, waiting for me at the gate—but by my uncle, who had no words.

I looked at Finn. “Saturday, buddy. It was a Saturday.” Finn nodded, as if satisfied at sliding a puzzle piece into place. And I nodded back, unexpectedly grateful for that moment—to have been asked about that day, to have made that connection across time and space between my dad and my son, and to have remembered.

the (really) little things

Recently, Tom and Cuz watched “Moonrise Kingdom” on cable. I overheard Tom complain to Cuz throughout the movie about how bad it was, and then heard him continue to complain after the movie was over, for two straight days. About a week later, while perusing the paper for a movie to watch on our date night, he shouted from the living room. “How about ‘Moonrise Kingdom?’ Let’s see that.”

Tom is a great lawyer. He can remember a lot of facts and law. I’m going to assume it’s that kind of income-producing info that is taking up all the brain space where a memory for non-work-related details might otherwise reside.

Like the name of almost every restaurant we have ever eaten at. He can’t remember the name of restaurants we have eaten at ten times or more. I feel bad that I get annoyed that he can’t remember a restaurant’s name to save his life, but I do. I feel worse because he knows I get annoyed and has to pretend like he remembers things, when he doesn’t. Like when I suggested we go to Piazza Italia for dinner last week. “Riiiiight, I love that restaurant. It’s the one on the corner of, um…you know, the one near the store with the…clothes.” Tom searched my face for clues but I wasn’t in the mood. He gulped and soldiered on. “Yeah. The restaurant where there were…all those…windows.” I felt like I was watching him drown in a pit of quicksand, and was alarmed to find myself enjoying the view. “It’s the restaurant we ate at on your 40th birthday, with 70 of our friends,” I snapped. Tom, lighting up from relief: “I love that place! Let’s go there!!”

Tom also cannot remember the name of any actress alive, no matter how hot he finds her. This is frustrating to me, because we have a subscription to US Weekly, which is essentially the Almanac of Hot Actresses. He pretends like he doesn’t read it, but you can bet your sweet ass he’s reaching for my US Weekly way before he cracks his own boring magazines. Anyway, my point is, he has no excuse. He can see the stars in the photos every week and there are always captions, and he should know their names. But he never does. I’m starting to wonder if he has that condition that prevents him from recognizing faces.

We landed on “Skyfall” for date night and afterwards, Tom commented on how hot the woman in it was, and how good that same woman had been in that Michael Mann movie about the gangsters, the title of which he could not, of course, recall. I blinked rapidly in an effort to hold back the annoyance I could feel rising behind my eyeballs. “Are you talking about…Marion Cotillard?” Tom nodded emphatically: “YES!” I took a deep breath and tried to think of something calm, like the ocean, and instead landed on 1) a spewing volcano, and 2) a raging forest fire. “Tom. You seriously think that half-Asian woman in that movie we just saw was Marion Cotillard—the white French actress?” Tom nodded, but was beginning to look unsure, and also like he wished he’d never talked at all. Don’t feel sorry for him. Feel sorry for ME.

Every time I have to correct Tom about some useless fact, it forces me to confront how much of my own precious brain space I am devoting to celebrity trivia. And then that makes me start wondering things like, what could I accomplish if I put down my US Weekly and picked up The Economist, and am I actually getting dumber with time? And then I just feel bad about myself. Can’t have that.

Anyway. You be the judge.

girl from skyfall

marion cotillard. neither of these photos were taken by me

divide and conquer

If you have kids and you’re like me and Tom, you spend your weekends being slaves to the concept of “family time.” The thing about family time is that consecutive days of it can create the opposite of the intended effect. If you’ve never wanted to run away from home at 4:00 pm on a Sunday, you’re a better parent than me.

This last weekend, Tom packed Finn up for a trip to Ann Arbor, nominally to watch the Michigan-Northwestern game and to visit Finn’s beloved Grandma and other family, including his amazing Aunt Susan and Uncle Matt, and cousins Ramal and Amya. I say nominally, because as evidenced by these photos, the trip obviously ended up being some heady mixture of epic grandma spoiling + early recruiting for U of M. I am told that Finn wore this helmet all of Sunday while tooling around town, except when he took it off to eat.


Back home, Tate and I were doing our own thing. To quote my friend Suzanne, I’m one hell of a mom when I only have one kid around. I’m more patient, kinder, more loving. And here’s what I learned about my three-year old. He says really funny things, which I usually don’t notice when Finn’s here, because I’m too busy breaking them up in the middle of a ninja fight. And he’s getting so tall, which I never noticed because his older brother is usually physically casting a shadow over him. His shoes were too small. So we went and got new ones. I learned that he can identify the Eiffel Tower and Adele’s voice on the radio. When we made french toast, I noticed how carefully he mixed the eggs with his whisk, so they wouldn’t spill. My little dude.


I’m sure Tom learned new things about Finn in their time away together. And while I miss Tom and Finn a lot, it all makes me think that there might be something to the concept of splitting the kids up once in a while, instead of driving ourselves batty from too much forced togetherness. A little time to enjoy each kid without the mitigating influence of a sibling.  A little time to dally.

the getaway

We just got back from a 24-hour trip to Oregon wine country. With best friends. And no kids. Amazeballs.

I love wine. But I’m not naturally suited to wine tasting, for two reasons. First, I have really low alcohol tolerance. I can go from cold sober, to drunk, to deep slumber, in about 35 minutes, given the right conditions. Second, I don’t have a refined nose. I can tell when wine is corked. Beyond that, it’s all kind of a mystery. Which is fine, because for me, wine is a means to an end. I like the feeling I get from a glass of wine. Like I can feel a knot inside of me unraveling. I don’t need my wine to be great. I just need it to be wine. In that way, wine, for me, is like pizza. When I want pizza, even Tostino’s gets the job done. As an aside, the last time I baked myself a Tostino’s, I was alarmed to read “Now Featuring: Real Cheese” on the outside of the box. What, exactly, were they using before? Man. It’s a good thing I’ve only eaten approximately 7000 Tostino’s pizza rolls over the last 35 years.

Anyway, low alcohol tolerance and an undiscriminating nose are great for drinking your Penfolds Shiraz at home in front of the TV. But not so great when you are wine tasting. Wine tasting requires that you stand in front of a wine steward and find something different to say about each of the five different Pinots they pour for you. And that’s where I run into trouble. Invariably, when pressed to describe a wine, the best I can come up with is, “That’s easy-drinking.” The line is always a safe bet. Because wine, like other alcoholic beverages, is generally easy to drink. But once I’ve said that, I have nothing, and am left to drink in silence, making thoughtful faces as if the emotions I’m feeling about the wine are too complex to distill into words.


Despite my natural handicaps, I had a blast tasting wine, because I was with Tom, Ethan, and Linds. It’s been a tough fall for the four of us. New jobs, new classrooms for our kids, family leaving, family passing away. The four of us blew into the first winery with the desperate air of convicts who had just broken each other out of jail and who expect to be dragged back at any moment. No elixir could have tasted sweeter than that first glass of wine, knowing that my children were miles away and incapable of finding me. I felt giddier and lighter with each glass. By our third winery, I was floating six feet off the ground. I was happy. So happy. To the outside world, and to the camera, I apparently just looked insane. Who knew.

But that’s the nice thing about getting away with the friends who know you best. They understand you. They don’t make fun of you when, desperate to sound like you know something about wine, you ask the wine steward whether your Riesling is a kabinett and the wine steward answers that she wouldn’t know because kabinett is a designation used only for wine made in Germany. Ugh. I, in turn, understood the gravity of the situation when Linds woke me up at 7:30 AM to ask in a scary, serious voice whether I’d brought a hair brush. She sounded so panicked that I thought something really bad had happened, like she’d forgotten her hairspray. No one gave Ethan a hard time when he asked for his burger at lunch without the bun. Tom just asked the waiter if he could have Ethan’s bun (“It’s a BRIOCHE bun, Ethan”), without missing a beat. And no one gave Tom a hard time when he revealed at the first winery that he didn’t “really like wine anymore,” and hadn’t, for months, and then spent the rest of the day surreptitiously dumping out the wine he was offered.


All in all, the weekend was so perfect that I didn’t even mind when I got home and Cuz casually mentioned that Finn had asked her some questions about death while we were gone, and that she had done her best to explain the difference between burial and cremation, and that Finn kept asking questions when she said that some people chose to get “sprinkled over mountains” after they died, and that eventually she had to stop answering because she didn’t know how to explain cremation without mentioning that you burn the body. I’m going to worry about all that tomorrow. Because right now, I’m still floating. Wine is groovy. Getaways are groovy. And having family like Cuz who love your kids enough to give it to them straight, and friends like Linds and Ethan who you love like family, is the grooviest of all.

stealing shampoo

I use “The Ethicist” column from the NYT as a moral barometer of sorts. It’s nice to check in every Sunday and verify that one is measurably less insane than the people who write into the column. Until, that is, you read a column and disagree with the Ethicist’s response. This happened to me last week, when someone wrote in about whether it was ok to take home the mini shampoo and conditioner bottles from hotel rooms. The Ethicist responded (basically) that those bottles are provided for your use under the condition that you use them inside the hotel room. Yeah, I know. WTF.

Screw the Ethicist. In my mind, not only is it ok to purloin those bottles, you would be a fool to leave them behind. When I get into a hotel room, after checking the bathroom floor for stray hairs, my first order of business is to immediately put all the miniature bottles in my bag, so that the housekeepers will put out new bottles of product at turndown. The next morning, I wash my hair with the Garnier I’ve brought from home, and then put the turndown bottles in my bag, so I can get new bottles when they clean the room. And so on and so forth. And here’s the thing. The housekeepers know I’m doing it. It’s not like they can’t see that the bottles are gone, or that the bottles aren’t in the trash can, which the housekeepers empty. No one’s reporting me. Because, you know what? They expect me to take the bottles. They NEED me to take those bottles.


primo minis from a recent trip to san diego

I’m going to pause here for a second to address the hotels that have replaced the mini bottles with communal shower dispensers. First of all, nothing says luxury accommodations like communal dispensers. Second, you can stick whatever label you want on the outside of the dispensers, but everyone knows what you’ve got in those dispensers is bottom-of-the-barrel Suave Awapuhi and VO5, which just means that you are dirty, cheap liars. Third, you’re not using dispensers for the environment, you’re using them because you want to save a buck, so stop pretending otherwise.  Communal hotel dispensers make me so mad that sometimes I am tempted to empty them out, in silent protest.  But that would be wasteful and petty.

I just want to be on vacation. I’m already doing my part for the environment at home. I recycle. I compost. I turn off the tap when I brush my teeth. And I grudgingly do my part at hotels. I reuse the stupid towels and sheets even though the main reason I go to a hotel is so I can sleep in crisp sheets that do not smell faintly of my kids’ urine, and luxuriate in the weight of a fresh towel that I can’t afford at home. I turn off all the lights and AC when I leave my room, and do the rest of the hotel’s bidding. So give back the mini bottles of shampoo and conditioner, ok? Jesus, I feel like crying.

If you think I’m weird, consider that I use those mini bottles for the gym, and travel to places that don’t provide product (e.g. vacation homes). So I have a real use for them. I’m not like my husband, who takes the mini bottles to use at our house, where he has access to regular-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner. For reasons unknown, Tom seems to prefer using products in miniature. Miniature bottles of product are great because they are free, but when you get right down to it, they are kind of a pain to deal with. I mean, they are notoriously difficult to open and squeeze, and once squeezed, they never stay upright, and end up spilling all over your shower. It’s a real problem for me, because as the only space in my house that my kids don’t have access to, my shower is my refuge. I sometimes shower twice in one day, just to escape my kids. Anyway, I like a neat and tidy shower. So it drives me nuts when I have to deal with something like this.


If you don’t think this is weird, let me just point out for you that the miniature bottles are all l’Occitane bottles that Tom brought home from the Four Seasons in Seattle. That big bottle is filled with the SAME PRODUCT that is in the little bottles. The labels look different but trust me, I know, because years ago Tom demanded that I ask l’Occitane what product they put in their hotel minis. Which I did, like the loving wife that I am. And the shampoo in their hotel minis is essentially the same stuff in that big purple bottle, which he demands that I procure for him at regular intervals, while I lather up with the Garnier. And still, he continues to use the miniatures. Is this not weird? I think it is totally insane. Every time he does this I stand in my shower with the water going cold, staring hard at the bottles, just trying to make sense of it. And I never can.

But whatever. I say nothing, because I want to support Tom’s hotel product benders, which probably save me at least $27 dollars a year in man-tastic beauty products, which I consider less fun to buy than even diapers or dishwasher tablets. As for any lingering qualms I might feel because of the Ethicist’s stupid column, here’s what I have to say to him, who as far as I know, lacks ethical credentials of any kind. He is not licensed in psychology or sociology, or morals. I, however, am a lawyer. As such, I might not know morals, but I damn well know conditional use. Those miniature bottles are mine. I paid for them with my hotel room, and if you want to say they are conditional even though those words appear nowhere on the bottles or on my hotel terms and conditions, go right ahead. But you’re wrong.


I quit my job two weeks ago and took another. I’ll be working less at my new job, in a new area of the law. The decision was made quickly, decisively, and with little forewarning. I was as surprised as everyone else, because I was happy at my old firm. People always say they love their coworkers. But I really did. Folk like Berman, above. Plus I enjoyed the work, and the clients.

It feels weird when you get older and start making decisions that aren’t in line with what you pictured for yourself. As a kid, I thought I’d grow up to be the woman in the Charlie ad. Partner in a law firm. A smart suit, and good hair. Kicking my heels up as I crossed the street in my stilettos.

But the heart wants what it wants. And right now, it wants more of this.


My Finn is so tall. His feet are almost as big as mine. For months now, when I looked at him, I’d feel 50% lung-crushing love, and 50% sadness. How had I missed so much of it? When he slips into my bed for a cuddle and I wrap my arms around him and press my lips to the back of his damp head, he feels weighty, substantial. Like my regret.

More time for soccer practices, bike rides, afternoon cinnamon rolls. That’s the idea, anyway. As hard as it was to leave, the decision was a no-brainer. For me.

This post isn’t about justifying a choice. It’s about trying to explain the unexplainable. It gets me down when moms judge other moms for their choices–it’s brutal out there for everyone. There’s no judgment in my decision. And I hope there’s no judgment of me.

Don’t get me wrong. Extended periods of time with my kids still tend to give me a screaming headache and agita. And yet. The older they get, the more that’s changing. I like them. I want to hang out with them. I want to be there for this. For me, the rest can wait.


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.

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.