NYT called my book “winsome.” And this will be the only time actress Julianne Moore will ever be likened to me. So, read on…
My children’s book, HERE I AM, is coming out this September. Sonia Sanchez, the illustrator, did an amazing job. Beautiful, whimsical, and moving. Kirkus gave it a starred review.
Look for it at http://www.capstoneyoungreaders.com/products/here-i-am-1/
To order signed copies, leave me a comment.
Jan. 29: This is not normal for a boy. But I’m going to admit it anyway. Only to you because you are basically me, so it’s like admitting something to myself which doesn’t really count. Or does it? I mean it’s not like admitting it to your mom or dad or older sister or teacher. Maybe to a best friend. But I don’t really have a best friend. Well, sometimes I think Jerome Thompson is my best friend but then he picks his nose and flicks his booger at me or he trips me or puts a post-it on my back. And he’s always calling me by my old name, which is Suk-Won. I hate my old name. I don’t get why my mom and dad named me Suk-Won. Suk? Come on, that’s like naming your kid Ugly or Fart or Poop. But it really wasn’t my parents’ fault. It was Halbeh’ s fault. It’s Korean tradition for the mom’s dad to name the kid. And Halbeh said my name came to him in a dream, where I grew tall and strong and smart and successful all because my name was Suk-Won. If she named me anything else, I’d be sick all the time. My mom didn’t want a sick kid. Who does? On top of that, she worried I might not be Korean enough, so she let it happen. Suk-Won. The worst name ever. But I guess it beats being called Suk-Lost. When I told my mom I needed a new name because it was a hazard to my confidence, she said OK. Just like that. OK.
“So, what should we call you?”
“Can I call you Johnny?”
“No, just John.”
“OK, John, go do your homework.”
Why John? Because it’s normal. No need to be special.
When the teacher announced to the rest of the class that my name from now on would be John, Jerome turned to me and said, “You ain’t no John. You Suk-Won!” Everyone else went along with the new name, except Jerome. “Hey, Suk-Won!” I hate it, but then he always picks me first when we play basketball. He’s the best b-ball player. He’s even better than the sixth graders. And when we play together, there’s no beating us. He can make the shots, but I’m fast. With his shooting and my dribbling, we can’t be beat. And he knows that so he picks me every time. That’s why I think he’s my best friend, sometimes.
All this best friend talk is for girls, so I’m going to stop it.
No more beating around the bush, as my dad says. Get to the point. Here’s what I have to get off my chest. What I came here to tell you is that, that, that…. I like a girl. There. I said it.
Jan 30: Aigo Maigo. Just in case you don’t know what that means, it’s what Halmeh says when she can’t believe something. Halmeh is grandma for Korean. Aigo Maigo. I can’t believe I’m keeping a diary. Yuck. I can’t even say that word. Diary. It’s disgusting. I am disgusted with myself. I feel like throwing up writing to you. No offense. I’ve locked my door. I’m in my closet. I’m under a blanket with a flashlight. Who am I hiding from? Noona. In Korea that’s what younger brothers call their older sisters out of respect. For me, it’s more out of habit, a bad habit, than respect. I got roped into it as a baby, and it stuck like an old booger dried up on your shirt. Luckily, noona sounds a lot like noodle brain, so I’m ok with it for now. But if she found out I was keeping a di-, di- even the first syllable is death. Die. Dia. Diarrhea. Aigo Maigo, this is my diarrhea.
It’s been five days without Louis. Time helps. Writing helps. Being alone helps. Being with people helps. Having a schedule of activities helps, too.
Chef’s Club met this week. My kids are lucky enough to go to a school where three of the kids there have a grand-aunt who is a gourmet chef. Chef Monica Thomas, a Certified Personal Chef and owner of Tailored Taste Personal Chef Service, adopted our school as part of the Chefs Move To Schools program and has been teaching over fifty kids how to cook. For Monica, it’s a family affair. Her sister, her niece-in-law, her grandnephew and nieces are all there. And I, along with three other volunteers, get to help out. When good food is around, it’s hard to resist building a community.
Thanks to Chef’s Club, these kids have cooked and eaten, some for the first time, things like arepas, sushi, gazpacho, sweet potato biscuits, and shakes made from fresh pears, ginger and oats. They’ve worked with ingredients that include jicama, prosciutto, kelp, quinoa, flax seeds, red bean paste, bison and an array of herbs and spices.
Not only are the kids introduced to new foods and cultures, they’re also taught to respect food because someone took the time and care to grow and harvest this tomato. Let’s respect that, and be grateful. The first rule of Chef’s Club: You do not say YUCK. If you don’t like it, you say, “It’s not my cup of tea.” The second rule of Chef’s Club: You do not talk about Chef’s Club. Please excuse me for breaking rule 2.
This last meeting was special to me. We met a couple days after we lost our puppy, and it was good to see my kids surrounded by supportive friends. We made prosciutto cheese muffins. While waiting for the muffins to bake, I was in the kitchen washing dishes with a group of five or six kids next to me, each with a towel ready to dry. We talked, giggled and laughed. The laughter was contagious. By the way, 11-year-olds get a real kick out of the word OXYMORON.
What is it about a kitchen that makes people share stories?
Toward the end of the meeting, two of the volunteers and I stayed in the kitchen telling stories about losing our pets. How utterly painful it is. How they’re like members of the family. This one made me laugh:
We’re talking about adults here. A room full of grown adults. We’re weeping. We’re all standing at the vet’s around our dog. He was this big sturdy husky. He was old and tough. It runs in our family like our grandmother from Iowa who lasted forever. But we had to put him down finally when he couldn’t stand anymore. We loved this dog. So, we’re weeping, wailing, sobbing. A room full of sobbing adults. So, the vet comes in and gives our dog the injection, and we’re crying and crying, and nothing happens. The dog is looking at us like yeah this feels good, I like this drug. So, the vet comes back and has to give him another injection. And still nothing happens. The dog won’t die. By this time, we’re all like, ok, it’s time. But the dog is still looking at us. Vet comes back again and has to give him a third injection. At this point, we’re done with the crying and we’re just standing there waiting when my son suddenly says, “Is this dog from Iowa?”
For more about Chef Monica Thomas, visit http://www.tailoredtaste.net:
The three words I’ve been dreading to string together: I dropped him.
My friends tell me: don’t blame yourself, it wasn’t your fault, don’t judge, it could’ve happened to anyone, it was a freak accident. The A word. The A word and I have a terrible relationship. When my kids say “It was just an accident,” I cringe because I want them to believe they have some control over that glass of milk. Spills can be prevented with more care. Falls can be prevented with firmer grips. If people took better care, we would have less accidents.
I’ve been trying to turn down the volume of that jagged song in my head; it’s the blame song. It plays in my background on a pretty regular basis. And I think it has something to do with an incident from when I was a kid. When I was 9 or 10 years old, I was hit by a pickup truck. It was after school, and I was running across the street to the ice cream man. I remember falling. I remember my head banging against the license plate. I remember my knees were bleeding and little rocks were embedded in my palms. People huddled around me. I remember limping back home as fast as I could with no ice cream. That night when my parents returned home from work, I got in big trouble for not being more careful, not looking both ways before crossing the street. We were immigrants. We were on survival mode. We were not allowed accidents. There was no room, no time, no money for broken bones or death. Their panicked discipline erupted from fear. And I suppose on some level, it worked. I never again got hit by a moving vehicle.
But the incident left a deep enough impression on me to affect how I raise my kids and how I relate to this beautiful and awful world full of people prone to accidents. Am I blaming my parents for my instinct to blame? When something goes wrong, I am quick to blame and quick to anger. John tells me there’s no room for anger in any of this. It’s easy for him to say because anger has no appeal to him. When something goes wrong, my husband heads straight to sadness, while I have to make a few stops pointing my finger and fuming before I reach that sweet and gentle land of sadness where it’s all right to be vulnerable, where you can actually start to feel yourself heal. I guess there’s no one way to mourn. We mourn as we are. I’m going to use all my resources and make all the stops I need to heal. Blame, anger, sadness, tears and laughter.
Yesterday, our 7-year-old came home from school and told us how her day went. The class had gotten word that she had lost her puppy. After all the hugs and words of comfort, the one curious boy who had to get the details of the puppy’s remains came up to her and asked, “So, what happened to the dog’s body?”
Ellie, with all her seven years of building a multisyllabic vocabulary, answered, “He was decimated.”
I imagine the boy going home and asking about the meaning of the word and his parents telling him that the word was used by the Roman army a long time ago, that it means to kill one in every ten soldiers who was a traitor or a coward. Decem is Latin for ten. And how it has now come to mean mass destruction. I imagine the boy furrowing his brow, trying to make sense, trying to bring together the images of Roman soldiers, mass destruction, the number ten and puppies all loose in his head.
…as in the purse, the king, and the comedian.
I brought him home early November, and we lost him yesterday to a freak accident. He sprang out of my arms and hit the floor, breaking his neck. The death was instant and painless for him. Louis was fast, feisty, and rarely still unless he was asleep, and even when asleep he woke up whenever we came near him, always up for love and affection. Rarely still, unless he was waiting for us to pick him up, even then his tail wagged like the arm of a kid in kindergarten who has the answer. Oooo Oooo. Pick me. Pick me. Pick me.
He was 12 weeks old. His life was brief, but he knew how to give and receive love and affection with no hesitations. I had much to learn from him. I’m learning that it’s hard for me to grieve privately. I want to bark and howl and moan so the whole world can hear, in an effort to spread the pain thin, in an effort to hear something return to me.
The day before Louis died, I read an article in the Sunday NY Times by Jonathan Franzen called “Technology Provides an Alternative to Love” and highlighted the line: To go through a life painlessly is to have not lived. At the time, I said, Bring on the pain, but not all at once. A pebble at a time, please. Well, this feels like a big fat dense brick. It’s the first loss our young family of four has experienced together. We’re sad, but ok and alive. My daughters and I wailed like good Koreans do when we mourn. My husband, the English-German, was more reserved. I think this was the first time our daughters saw their dad cry. We keep holding each other every chance we get, reaching out for warmth and comfort, hugging each other close to feel our hearts beat. My 11-year-old, who is studying the human heart in science class, put it this way: There will always be a Louis shaped hole in my aorta.
To all you lucky pet owners, please give your beloved some extra love today on our behalf.
My 7-year-old has been taking piano lessons for about a year and a half. She’s got a good ear, not extraordinary, but good enough to play pieces without having to rely on reading the notes. She uses the trial and error approach. Try a note, if doesn’t sound right, try another until something rings true. It’s not the most efficient method of learning a new song. She’s perfectly capable of reading music, but chooses not to. She’d rather feel her way through, mess around and experiment than read the notes.
Her trial and error method really bugs me.
My internal monologue goes something like this: There’s a map right in front of you, child, read the map, the map has all the answers, why try this road and that road when the map is right there telling you what notes to play? You’re going to end up being one of those people who refuses to read the Ikea manual before assembling your furniture or follow a recipe or read the fine print on a contract or even read the contract. You’re going to end up taking shortcuts, aren’t you, shortcuts that will end up consuming more time and energy. You’re going to jump right in without assessing risks, make a trail of mistakes, and say oh-well to the consequences. You’re going to end up with a tattoo you regret. Read the notes, child.
When I talked to my husband about this, he said, “That sounds like you.”
Guess who else that sounds like? My father. His trial-and-error spirit drove him to uproot his wife and two kids from their home to immigrate to another country with very little English, little money, and a map that was nothing but a vague sensation in his gut. It’s unnerving to have a father like that. It’s also unnerving having a daughter like that. It’s even more unnerving to be like that.
Am I trying to correct the me in my daughter?
Sure. My kids are like little mirrors reflecting the strong and the weak in me. Most of the time, I like what I see. Sometimes, I don’t and want to make adjustments. However, there is a little voice in me that says to let them be. Leave them alone. They’re not you. They’re not mirrors. They are themselves. Yes, they are themselves, but they’re not islands. They’re deeply entangled and connected to me and the world in ways I will never fully understand. I legally have an 18-year window of influence over them, and I want to do everything I can to make sure my daughters grow to be better than I am, better at trial-and-error, better at following their guts, and yes, even better at reading the notes.