Mother's Day and Mackerel

Happy Mother's Day everyone! Strangely when I think about Mother's Day, what comes to mind is not overpriced flowers or chocolate or hallmark cards, I think of mackerel, the smelly oily fish that was the household staple of my youth. Why would Mother's Day correlate with this pungent seafood? I've been thinking that myself.

I remember when I was in 3rd grade watching the girls around me in envy as they opened up their Wonderbread sandwiches and each took a moment to read the little folded heart shaped notes their mothers made them. I was disgruntled that my mother never packed me a lunch but hastily threw a couple dollars on the dresser every morning so I can buy it. I remember enviously seeing class mothers come in and participate in class and help set up events. I remember, seeing kids bringing their amazing science projects and presentations to school. It was obvious that their parents toiled away and created immaculate presentations, while their child held the glue stick. Whenever I brought home a project assignment, it was in danger of being held together with rice. When school was over I remember seeing all the class moms set up the snacks for the Girl Scout Brownies. I so wished my mom was one of them, each mom looking enthusiastic and prim. When I got home from school I would want to unwind with episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but when my mom got home from work, she would have the audacity to turn off the TV so we can do homework. Of course, unprompted she took the liberty  to oversee every aspect of this. Sometimes she was frustrated because she didn't know how to pronounce some of my spelling words, or knew what they meant. "Why your teacher give your this word??" she would say annoyed. Either way, I had to spell each word, solve each math problem, and read every book to the level of her satisfaction. Then dinner came along and what I wanted more than anything was American food, like I saw on TV. I wanted mashed potatoes and gravy with meatloaf in the form of one of those microwavable TV dinners, but many nights my heart and my stomach sank as I heard the loud angry sizzle and crackle of the frying pan. I knew what was for dinner...

mackerel.

That smelly oily fish never went silently into the night (or the iron skillet) without spraying around every particle of its oily existence, creating a thin malodorous layer of grease. By the time the fish was fried every surface of our kitchen was laminated with the stuff. This smell of mackerel grease combined with the aroma of kimchi and garlic that ever permeated our house, was like a type of olfactory napalm. We tried to dissuade her, but my mother was impervious to our mackerel protests. Hungry and tired when I was ready to finally partake of the meal, I had to exert effort in picking out all the big pieces of fish bone that were interlaced through the meat. The small pieces had to be chewed heartily lest they get lodged in your throat. I have not-so-fond memories of that happening, only to be relieved by swallowing whole spoonfuls of rice. Mackerel, rice, side dishes, and kimchi was the routine in our house. After every dinner I was peeved that my food never left me, as the smell had become one with my shirt.

Now ironically, mackerel is one of my favorite foods. I love to order it when I go to Korean Restaurants. Now, I crave the crispy salty oily goodness of it. When placed sizzling before me, I readily dig in, separating the big bones and gulping down each savory bite with rice.   I would cook it more often if my husband didn't protest against the odor so much. He would look at me in puzzlement as to why would I order mackerel at a Korean restaurant, a food that was so pedestrian and unfavored in my youth?  For one, my adult palate realizes now that it's absolutely delicious and healthy. It's packed with nutrients that boost your immune system, brain and nerve development, while fighting cancer agents in your cells not to mention it's high in calcium. Each mackerel is a humble package for all those benefits. In the same way, it reminds me of my mother.  She was a wife and a mother of two kids, working full time and often taking classes and faithfully volunteered at church. She could have easily resorted to a microwavable dinner now and then, but she took the time to cook mackerel. Now each crispy bite reminds me that she always wanted to give her best despite her weariness. It reminds me of her unending patience towards our complaining and griping. It reminds me of long nights where she took the time to go through our homework not allowing her English deficiencies get in the way. Like the small calcium-rich fish bones that needed extra chewing and weeding through, my mother didn't mind being inconvenienced and putting in effort, if it yielded worthwhile results. Though I never got Wonderbread sandwiches for lunch, or heart shapes notes, or immaculate science projects, or microwavable foods (thank goodness), what I did receive was far more valuable. She taught me to never give up, that limited skills and time is no excuse to not give life your best shot, and lastly remember to be faithful to God and be grateful for the life you've been given... and if you need to be daechoong here and there to get by, don't sweat it.

As a mother I can only hope to emulate her willingness to sacrifice, to give of herself, and to teach. Though I didn't realize at the time those mundane mackerel dinners taught me something. I hope this Mother's Day you are able to show your mother some love, I know I am so grateful for mine.  What are some of the everyday mundane things about your childhood that remind you of your mother?

Throwback: My mom and I 2008. Do you see the resemblance?

Throwback: My mom and I 2008. Do you see the resemblance?

Some pictures from Waikiki, I'm so blessed to be a mother to these munchkins=)

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A Mother's Love

Happy Valentines Day! We are here in NJ and its cold and snowing a lot! Lucky we have more than enough love from family and friends to keep us warm on the inside=) It being Love Day and all, I've been thinking a lot about a mother's love, especially since I've been getting a good dose of it from my own daechoong mama. 

Coming off a 10 hour plane ride with a screaming crying one year old and a cranky 3 year old is a soul draining experience that I will elaborate on in another post. I came home after staying up all night completely and utterly distressed, tired, and my psyche shattered in a million pieces. My mother watched the kids, let me sleep in on their bed with their electric blanket (those are awesome), and slowly I felt the warmth melt away weariness. The last few days we were stuck at home with a nor'easter snow storm and watched the inches pile up. We stayed in with home cooked meals, my mother willing to carry my burdens to give me some rest. Don't get me wrong I love being a mother but after many months without a break and after a really long stressful month long stretch, it's really nice to be cared for. I feel a sense of peaceful contentment I haven't felt in awhile. 

That's a mother's love. At your very worst,  your weariest, your most inconsiderate, sloppy and indecent, and shameless, moments your mother still loves and accepts you, she takes you just as you are. Not with out expectations of course, but you can show her your ugly side, your personality flaws, the hard-to-look-at aspects of who you are and you can just be that in front of her. Its the constant forgiveness, and "giving in" that is as integral and indispensable to motherhood, as the warmth of the sun is to the earth.  

Growing up receiving this love had its drawbacks in a way. I grew up to think the world was kinder than it was ruthless, that it was caring more than it was harsh. It gave me an inaccurate picture of the world and led me to believe that others would be just as forgiving and indulgent as my mother was towards me. Growing up is a slow discovery in the rude awakening of what the world is really like. It's that same love that wants to show my kids in their prime of their innocence, that people and the world are kind loving and patient.

In the same way, time and time again, when my kids drive me crazy, when I feel like I'm pushed to the brink of no return, when I feel my sanity hanging on my thread, I realize I can always give a bit more, that unlike the way things are with everything else in life, for my kids I can keep giving. Why? Because that is what my mother did for me. The never ending flame of our love for are kids is fueled and guided by the love we first received. This snowy day, as I'm typing this, my body is chilly but my heart is warm. This snowy Valentines Day I'm very grateful for the love I've received and the abundant love I have and can continue to give to my little ones. Happy Valentines Day!

Some pics of our trip so far. One of the great things now about going home to NJ is seeing our little ones reunited with their cousins. The pictures below are of Joey and Kaitlyn with my brother's kids. You can see the cousin love! Can't wait take pics with their other cousins soon too!

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Speaking of my daughter driving me crazy... this is what she was doing all night... make a mess at my mom's house.

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Do you see the time?? Thats 2:30 AM!!

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Is It Worth It?

So I've been MIA lately because our household is under the spell of disease. My daughter somehow contracted Hand Foot Mouth Disease and she has been utterly miserable and I have been miserable with her. I've seen my fair share of illnesses. I have a 3 year old boy that goes to preschool. I thought I saw it all, high fevers, viruses, bronchitis, colds, flu etc. but nothing prepared me for Coxsackie ( a form of HFM). My poor daughter's mouth has broken out into canker sores. Her gums are completely inflamed and bleeding, so she can hardly eat or drink anything. This past week she has been subsisting on ice cream. So choosing between diabetes and rotten teeth or starvation and dehydration I chose the lesser evil. My normally fun loving, light hearted daughter, that eats anything and sleeps well, has been replaced with a cantankerous, grouchy, girl who throws and screams at any food I try to give her.  She is usually pretty independent and plays well by herself but now she demands to be held 24/7. So its been a tough week.

 

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I almost feel like I'm going through postpartum where I am teetering between two realities, one where I tell myself that its all a phase, its a part of life and to take it in stride, and the other, where I let the sleeplessness, anxiety and stress get the best of me. Sometimes I wonder in these one- crying- toddler- meltdown- away- from- collapsing "is it worth it?" I get into these moments where I think fondly of my pre-children days. Those days where I felt like a woman and not like a human wet-rag.

I reminisce and I remember when all I had to do was take care of myself, where I had the time and the means to look and dress well, when there were actually times when I liked what I saw in the mirror. That's another thing, the mirror used to be my friend. It made sure I didn't have food in my teeth, told me to add some more powder to my nose,  occasionally told me how nice I looked in my new dress. Now the mirror glowers at me, showing me how dark the bags are under my eyes, how far my gut is sticks out pass my chest, how uneven my skin tone is becoming. It's as if in giving birth and breathing new life into my babies, youth and beauty left in the same breath.

I reminisce and remember going out and having fun with others, something called a "social life" which has become such a foreign concept it might as well be the moon for now. I've barely left the house the past couple weeks. I think how hard it is raising kids without family to help. It's something I don't notice until illness plagues my household. I see other people with kids, able to go out and have fun, because their parents can watch their kids for a night. I never seemed to get a break and I feel like I'm drowning to get air.

So this is how I have been feeling. I feel ashamed to even be asking myself this. How could I not love and appreciate the amazing gift of motherhood every moment of every day? If I were to go back in time would I do things differently? Would I trade it all for independence, freedom, youth, fun.... Is it worth it?

As these thoughts started filling my heart and mind, last night I took a walk outside. I've been confined indoors in fear that I am somehow carrying the virus my daughter has.  The sky was so bright and the full moon shined like an elegant light fixture in the sky.  The clouds seemed to radiate the light of the moon and as I gazed above, looking at how bright it all was, I realized you never appreciate how beautiful and bright a moon could be unless you accustomed to seeing darkness. It reminded me of the little moments as a mother that make me forget the hardship: lost beauty, lost youth, a social life forever gone, sleeplessness, etc... moments when my daughter hugs me and leans her head on my shoulders, where I know I am her only comfort but at the same time she is holding me up as much as I am holding her. Or like last night when she sensed my stress and tried giving my kisses on the cheek despite the fact it hurts to move her mouth. In every hardship as a mother like labor, post partum, the pain of nursing, the terrible twos and even more terrible threes, and sickness, when you feel the darkness about to envelope you, those moments, like the radiant shine of a full moon, get you through. Would we ever be able to survive motherhood without them? Moments that help you remember the joy of it all, moments that make it all worth it.

5 Reasons Why I Am Glad Christmas is Over...

1) The first one I'll express in poem:

We had a rule in our house to celebrate a merry way

"No opening presents until Christmas Day!"

For I wanted the morning to be an experience to remember

But Alas the first gifts came on the 10th of December

making my poor boy complain and resent

Asking every 10 minutes "Can I open the present!?"

Next year all will appear suddenly on Christmas Day

To save my sanity and keep my innner Grinch at bay...

___

2) The Mall

Having a 3 year old and a 1 and 1/2 year old and going to the mall during Christmas time is a soul draining experience. With my son running around weaving in and out of mall traffic, causing kids, the elderly, and the faint-hearted to trip over. My daughter got a kick out of grabbing things from every store we entered and making a run for it, like she was re-enacting a scene from Oliver Twist.

3) Glitter

I know I'm starting to start like the Grinch for real but as a mother, I HATE GLITTER. The stuff never leaves the house once entered, it's like the holiday bed bugs. If someone gives you a bag or a ribbon filled with glitter months will pass where glitter will randomly show up on your sons face or on a banana, a blanket, a towel and you constantly think "I THOUGHT I GOT ALL OF IT!!"

4) Ornament Control

My daughter the 1 and 1/2 year old loves grabbing the ornaments off the tree. Some of them were shatter proof and some of them were not. We were playing 24/7 ornament control in our house, I felt a tinge of anxiety every time my daughter so much as looked at our tree.

5) Opening Children's Toys

Long gone are the days of opening the box and taking out the present. As a kid I don't remember every extremity of my Rainbow Bright being attached to a box. Toys are now attached to the plastic or cardboard casing  by being bolted and/or wired, and don't forget those fun nylon cable wires strapped on for additional support. I don't understand why opening gifts now a days has to be a 12 step process. Did the packing department at Fisher Price merge with the CIA or something? I tried to open a plastic toy cash register. The actual register was screwed into its cardboard box. So to open the gift I had to get out my tool box and find the right bit on my battery screwdriver to open the gift. Then there was the whole unraveling all those wire ties. There is no simple easy way to do it aside from unraveling each wire, which drove my daechoong side crazy!

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On the flip side it was amazing experiencing Christmas again through the eyes of a child. When I was young waking up Christmas morning was a magical experience in some ways. I woke up with a sense of Joy that it was Jesus' birthday and I would be able to celebrate with my family. As i got older the day seemed to lose its magic every year. The day slowly became mundane and obligatory. I remember when I was in high school waking up Christmas morning and realizing that it felt like any other day.

My son is now almost four and I feel like its our first Christmas where he is fully aware of the holiday and he is certainly fully aware of presents and Santa and the whole holiday season whirlwind. This year to see him understand that meaning behind Christmas and watch the joy light up on his face when he opened his gifts made all of the annoying things I ranted above, absolutely worth it.

 

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Notice how there are no ornaments on the bottom of the tree?

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I think my daughter had more fun with the wrapping paper than the actual gifts...

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"There's no more wrapping paper?"

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Look Before You Leap

Being a parent causes you to be a lot more self reflective. We all have our flaws, vices, defense mechanisms, and idiosyncrasies about us that our friends and loved ones either love or hate and regardless endure. But when you become a parent you realize that those flaws don't just affect you and those around you, but they play a part in shaping the life of another human being. It's quite overwhelming when you think about it.

One of my many flaws is my inability to think before I act or speak. You might be thinking "What the heck kinda pastor's wife are you?" Well... when I'm counseling and listening to other people's problems, I am very careful of what I say and I take great pains in choosing my words carefully. So that's that... but when it comes to the daily grind and the endless to do lists.... I am the complete antithesis of looking before I leap or thinking before I speak.

Think (Speak+ GNC)

I remember one situation that totally illustrates this about me. My husband wanted to try this prework out mix called JACK3D (Jacked).

Was recalled so my husband never took it. Some shady things in here supposedly.

Was recalled so my husband never took it. Some shady things in here supposedly.

So went to the the GNC at the mall and there is no parking. He says he'll loop around the parking lot and drops me off. I rush in the store.

I see a guy stacking protein containers, he smiles and is about to greet me with the GNC shpeel and I cut him off cause I'm in a rush.

"Excuse me, I want to get JACK3D!" 

He gives me an awkward look and just looks at me.

"Sorry I'm in a rush I need to get JACK3D now and some vitamins."

I realize he might think it's strange that I'm buying it, so I explain. 

"Sorry, I mean my husband wants me to get JACK3D." 

He's flushed and just looks at me.

"Do I have something on my face?" I think to myself. "What is wrong with this guy? So awkward."

I say to him with a hint of annoyance "Can you tell me where I can find it?"

Then he realizes what I meant and lets out a relieved nervous laugh. "It's right over here"

At that moment I realized he thought I wanted to get JACKED as in really buff. I felt utterly embarrassed and I couldn't look the guy in the eye as he was finally giving his GNC schpeel about vitamins and JACK3D.

I told Joe what happened when we got home and he laughs but then says he was so happy he was not with me. He'd prob never be able to show his face again at the store.

Another time I remember after our small group we were all talking about Kareoke and my friend who is also Korean American was saying how we should definitely go Kareoke one day. I respond enthusiastically to my friends, "I loooove NRB!"

Immediately you can hear a pin drop and there's this awkward silence and my Korean American friend bursts out laughing hysterically. I realize she and I are the only Koreans in the room and the rest of them do not realize NRB stands for No Rae Bang (Kareoke Room) but they thought I meant ...another thing that NRB stands for. I quickly explain the acronym and you could hear the sigh of relief in the room.

So there you have it. I often don't think before I speak. I also rush into decisions without thinking through them. I jump before knowing what I'm crashing into. In the past that primarily only affect me, and lead me to make poor choices and I would brace myself for the consequences. Now as a mother, the consequences affect another life. My son.

Look (Leap +Preschool)

At the end of the summer there was some turn around with his preschool teachers and we had moved about 25 mins away from his preschool. So, distressed by the turn around and sick of driving through traffic, I swiftly looked for other options closer to home. I visited a preschool and saw their nice clean facilities and the teachers seemed nice and accommodating, so I enrolled him there and patted myself on the back for a job well done.

One thing I didn't take in account though was the depth of love he had for his friends at his old school. I just thought "He's 3 years old, he'll adjust and make new friends." Unfortunately that wasn't the case. He wasn't clicking with the friends at his school and he didn't like the teachers either. Funny thing was, this new preschool was is a widely known chain and was very orderly and institutionalized but that doesn't translate to love and care to a 3 year old. He missed the teachers at his old school and his close group of friends that were together since they were two. Everyday he started asking me about his friends. Where did they go? How come he couldn't see them? I explain that hes going to a new school and he could make new friends. That wasn't enough and he didn't want new friends he wanted the friends he had.

After a month of going to the new school I noticed subtle changes in his demeanor. He's normally nothing but a ball of boundless energy and joy, but you could tell a slight tinge of anxiety touched his normally happy disposition.

Then one day we had to stop by his old preschool because my husband had to meet someone there. I thought it would be a good idea to appease his yearning to see his old friends, so we went with him. As soon as his old classmates saw him squeals of excitement filled the preschool. They were practically mosh pitting him and all of them wanted to get their arms around him.

"Joey!! Joey!! We missed you!!" they exclaim earnestly.

His old teachers came out of their classes to hug and kiss him. What did Joey do?

He stood there crying.

Not just a normal 3 year old boy cry, it was more like weeping. He cried so hard his body started shaking. He ran away from his friends and clung to me for dear life. I was so confused.

"Why is he acting this way? Isn't he happy to see them?"

Then his classmates lined up to go to chapel time, I took my crying boy into my arms and carried him out of the play yard. His whole class starts yelling.

"Joey where are you going?? Come back!! Let's go to chapel!!"

Hearing the sadness and disappointment in their voices and feeling Joey weeping in my arms made me realize. I made a mistake.

When we went home I asked him about why he was so upset. And he said "mommy, because I so sad to see my friends. I want to go to old school... I don't like new school.. I want old school."

I was too brash, thought too little of his feelings, gravely underestimated the depth of love a little boy can have for his friends and the strength of those bonds. I overlooked the fact that his friends became a part of him and seeing them again without knowing if he would ever see them after that, lead him to feel sorrowful.

I ate my words and called his old preschool to see if there were openings. The preschool director said that his classmates were so sad during chapel the day we visited. When the pastor asked them who they wanted to pray for his whole class said "Joey!" Her words compounded my guilt.

So we enrolled him back to his old school. He was so happy and excited to go back. The first day his friends crowded around him and gave him hugs and kisses. He stood there confident and happy to receive all of them, knowing he was back for good.

He's back to his old happy crazy self. I learned to remember that though he is little, I should never make little of his thoughts, feelings, and his friendships. He's 3 years old and has a deep capacity to love, to grieve, be joyful and internalize the situation around him. I realize that I have to be all the more weary of my short comings because they affect him. Hopefully, for my son, I'll do better the next time around to think before I speak and look before I leap.

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Its been raining a lot where we are in Hawaii. Its rainy season now but a couple days ago the sun came out for a bit after a full day of rain. I took the kids out to the field across the street from out house and got to take pictures!

Not a day goes by where I am not completely dumbfounded by the beauty of Kaneohe...

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