Archive for the ‘Parents’ Category

First Memory

23 May

Smiling faces hover on cameras with laughter and attentive parents who ask questions about their children. New children from Korea. Children losing their mother’s tongue with such ease. Only three months and fluent! Smile. The camera demands it. The unmet grandparents, demand it. The memories of that other country impossible to hold against pain demand it. Other people will construct what is not remembered, but don’t worry. Smile for the camera.

My new parents owned a large three story house, the third story was the attic. It had a front porch and faced out into the street with a large lawn and a side walk in front. My Dad, who was watching us, told my mom he was going out shopping for groceries.

My brother and I were tossing the ball and having fun, but it went out in the street. I looked at the porch and could not see my mom. She was gone. No other adults around. Besides, habit told me that going out into the street was fine as long as I looked out for my sibling. The adults were too new. Adults were things that could disappear.

The only rule I remembered was that I was to look out for my brother no matter what–to me that was the most important thing in my world. I could not leave him at the side of the street with no one around. He stared at the ball. I held his hand tight while we ran after the ball. He fetched it from under the car. We ran back to the other side.

My mom saw us and immediately marched us into the hall. Her lips were so tight they turned white as her face. An atmosphere of rage enveloped me. My first words were to defend my brother. It was my decision, not his. I firmed my mouth as she yelled over my words. This felt wrong.

She shook me a few times by the shoulders. I could not understand what she was saying because it was so loud the I didn’t understand all her words. I cried again that it was my fault, but she only yelled more and more. The yells turned into shouting. She pointed to us, towering over and raging. The questions she asked that wanted no answers echoed up the back stairs as an amplifier.

“Why did you do that?”

My brother hugged my arm and hid behind me as she stood over us.

When I realized she was not listening, I looked at the wall. Numbness filled me. I just needed to wait for it to stop. The scroll of the faded red flower wallpaper caught my notice for the first time. In the months I had been there with her and my dad, I had never seen that wallpaper before. It was always in my periphery–as if it were a white and red blur. But in that moment it became clear. I wondered what kind of flowers they were.

“Look at me,” she demanded. “You are to never cross the street.”

Which also led to another string of yelling. The back stairs were painted brown. A dark red brown. Adults had yelled at other adults, but never at me before.

The door to the basement was white and had a cat door that was screwed shut on it. I wanted to cry, but that only blurred my vision. There were worse things in the world than being yelled at. I was still afraid that we would be sent away.

There was no escape for my brother. How could I get him to escape? I’d tried so hard before to protect him. I had a forgotten promise to keep and even if I didn’t remember it in words, I remembered enough of it to keep it in my mind. He was not to get into trouble. This was not safe.

She finished yelling, as if satisfied and then took us to the dining room. “You will stay in the corner for fifteen minutes each.”

My brother and I stared at each other laughing, because this was a crazy event we did not understand. Was this to be our new life in this country? She yelled at us for laughing and made us face away from each other.

My dad came home with the groceries. He saw us in the dining room and asked my mom, not us what happened. She told him her version–a car had come and we were almost hit. I was confused because that was not correct, and I wasn’t sure why she was lying. But it was an adult matter I should not interfere with, but I still listened. And we’d crossed the street on our own. That was true. And she was watching. She wasn’t. That it was sudden. It wasn’t. I had hesitated before crossing.

He bent down to us and I cried, I couldn’t put it into words what happened. I had no Korean to translate in. And I didn’t know English well. The jumble of words would not come out in order. I was thinking of my brother again and my own failure to explain and protect him, so I don’t know what I exactly said. I rubbed my eyes and he told us that even though it was five minutes we could go out and play.

My mom yelled at my dad for letting us off easy. My dad used a calm and even voice saying he thought it was too much. She screamed louder over his voice something intelligible as we left the house. My brother acted like nothing had happened. But I was five, and more aware.

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Posted in Childhood, Parents


Uneven Sidewalk

23 Jun

In the front of our house there were linden trees between the street and the sidewalks. Their roots heaved up the panels of sidewalk so they bent in the middle. My mom and dad were watching us on the porch. I was running on the sidewalk faster and faster. My lace socks bouncing. My foot caught against the sidewalk and bam, I slid forward.

I sobbed, holding my left knee. The scrape covered the wrinkled part of the knee.

My mom scooped me up and brought me in the house as I sniffed. Her face was grim and frowning. She sat me on the toilet seat. She took a wash cloth from the side of the bathtub and then handed it to me.

“You don’t want your eyes to get puffy.”

This struck me as strange.

While I held the washcloth to my face, she cleaned my knee. “Stitches? I don’t think so.”

I sniffled, wincing at the idea of a needle.

She said she was going to get spray for the knee to disinfect it for germs. She explained again why getting germs was bad.

The door stayed open as she went into the hall and got the spray disinfectant. She told me it was going to sting. I sucked in my teeth, still sniffling as I did.

“Washcloth,” she said, holding it up to my face.

She put a huge bandaid on it.

“Don’t pick the scab. You don’t want germs or need stitches.”

I said nothing in return.

“You’ll be OK,” she said.

The threat of stitches played in my head as I was returned to go out and play.

My knee healed with a big scar. The scar slowly drifted up to my knee cap as I got older. “Don’t pick the scab,” echoes in my mind.

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Posted in Childhood, Parents


My Mom and Korea

23 Jan

My Mom smiles at me with that stiff smile. “I don’t understand why Korean is so difficult.”

I say, “Hangeul is phonetic.”

“But the sounds change. Korean is so hard.”

I shake my head. “Many languages are like this. English is like this too. Wa-ter turns into Wader in Standard American English.”

“Yeah, but Korean is so hard. I will only learn hangeul” I can feel myself getting upset at her. I wonder if I have the right to yell at her for pushing away my heritage with such ease.

“English has ‘through,’ ‘rough,’ and other words that sound different, but are spelled the same. No language is harder than another. They are just different.”

“I don’t have a gift with languages.” I refrain from snapping, “I don’t have a gift either, the difference is that I was forced to try.”

My Dad chimes in, “[My brother] will translate for us.”

I say, “No, he will not. I will get you guys a translator.”

The room grows silent. I try to hide my anger.

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Posted in Korean Culture, Parenting, Parents, Racism


Report Card Time

23 Jan

I would see my report card in the stack of mail and cringe. I knew what was coming. No matter how many A’s I got in a class, no matter how many B’s I would get picked over for my C’s D’s and F’s. I rarely got F’s, but when I did, I knew that it would be handed down with a punishment and my parents arguing over discipline.

If the report cards came on the same day, my brother and I would ask each other who wanted to go first. We would rotate, knowing that our mother would yell at us, no matter what we got. She would lecture to us about college, even though we were nowhere near the age, and then she would say no TV for a week.

And then for that week we would find ways to disobey her. One time she banned us both from watching television. So we disobeyed. She caught us. She took the cable line. We disobeyed and my brother through his engineering skills he’d learned managed to reroute the cable for when she was gone. She took the VCR, without telling her we disobeyed and managed to watch cable TV without the VCR.

We did not respect her. We could not. She who yelled at us when she had stress from work. She who yelled at us when she got home fishing for things to yell about. She who distanced us by saying she had work to do and we were not to bother her. She who would not purely play with us after I was seven years old. We never obeyed her. We only obeyed our Dad because she was never around–because she always made excuses. Because in essence she refused to take care of us we refused to obey her. We would instead pretend to obey her. We would complain to each other about her behavior. And when I found my voice, I argued with her. I tried to get her to hear my grievances. But she never learned to listen.

And report card time was the same. We did not respect her. We did not respect her who would put us down all the time. I only respected her for the knowledge she carried. I respected her out of duty, because that’s what she said she felt for us too. Duty. Obligation. And buried in there was love, but it was not love through communication and understanding. It was love through pure duty, fear and respect.

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Posted in Parenting, Parents


ADD and Daydreaming

23 Jan

I used to day dream a lot. It was escape from the teasing, the hardships that life gave me. I’d make up stories. I remember I was daydreaming in class because the problem they were teaching was boring. I could see the rafters. I was thinking up a story with Barbie who was blonde, skinny and big-chested. Her head would pop off and I’d have to hunt for my dad to put her back together. It was the usual fare. She was a princess. I was deciding who was going to be the prince.

It was a way to escape from my surroundings because from the time I started school I was in constant fear of being teased. From the time I got on the bus to the time I stepped off. The teasing I received stripped me of my adoptive culture, my birth culture and of myself. That’s in part how I learned that words have a lot of power.

I would sometimes mutter to myself sorting out the stories going through my head. I day dreamed a lot because my surroundings were less desirable. I wanted to be rescued like Cinderella from her poor life. I saw nothing wrong with this. I would do it in the middle of someone else’s conversation because I didn’t want to listen.

When my parents yelled for me to come and get dinner. I tuned them out. I had learned from the age of five that all yelling was a bad thing. Yelling from my mom because we went out into the street, yelling at school because the kids were picking on me. So I learned that all yelling was bad, so I tuned it out. As the teasing got worse and there was no one to even listen to me and as I internalized those feelings, me not listening to yelling got worse. I wouldn’t even respond when dinner was being called.

My parents, therefore, ignoring all my previous hurt of teasing, decided to take me in for hearing testing. They figured that my problem was that I couldn’t hear right. I told them up front that I passed the school hearing test. They ignored me. After they got the results, my mom said in an exacerbated voice as her volume rose up, “Is it that you’re just ignoring us? Why won’t you tell us what’s wrong?”

But the thing was, I had told them what was wrong since I was in kindergarten and they’d brushed me off every single time until I was afraid to tell them. They told me it wasn’t about race. They told me I was wrong and they just proved through the hearing test that they were not open to listening to me talk about myself, even on a small thing like that. I was a kid. I was wrong about my own state of being.

So ignoring me again and my own thoughts on the matter, my parents thought I had ADD. They brought me to a psychiatrist. I constantly asked why they were doing this. I thought they were trying to find something wrong with me, but unlike every other time I asked why they didn’t explain why until some years later. They insist that they did. Perhaps I heard it but didn’t understand. I was indignant and I was determined I was going to beat the psychiatrist over the head with how smart I was. I remember the guy as nervous. He wasn’t calm. He constantly twitched and his voice was never even. I remember his glasses and the sweat on his brow.

He sat me down. I thought it was going to be like school work. My parents weren’t there. I looked for them. He gave me blocks to stack and arrange. He gave me a puzzle of a horse that I stubbornly refused to believe was a horse. My imagination was playing itself again. But I was going to beat that timer. I was always like that. I would try to read his impassive and always nervous face. I decided I didn’t like him. That’s why I was going to defeat him.

He asked no questions. Sometimes he would give a little vocal guidance. I was secretly upset when he helped out. I wasn’t day dreaming because I could see the challenge set in front of me.

We remet with my parents in, I think, his office. I could see his degree. I was a strange child. I always looked for degrees and the things around the office. I still spend time reading instructions, product labels and cereal boxes.
“She just needs more attention in the classroom. I think smaller classroom size would be helpful.” He only helped to confirm their suspicions. It wasn’t because I was being teased, it was because I had a learning disability which could only be cured by smaller class sizes. He helped their denial.

I didn’t know what going on. I already was trying to figure out the context.
“Yes, we’re trying to transfer her.”

They mentioned a school and people they knew from there. This was baffling to me. It occurred to me that most of the people’s names were Jewish or that I knew them.
My parents had never asked me why I daydreamed. I can confidently answer them that it was the only way to keep my sanity when I was in constant fear of being teased. I would day dream in the middle of their teasing. Through their chants of “teacher’s pet” “cooties” “You are gay with your best friend” or pairing me with another classmate they didn’t think acceptable. They never associated the two together. I wouldn’t expect them to.

I had a freak determination to never return to that position again. I concentrated more out of pride rather than because I had a smaller classroom size. However the change of schools helped in other ways. I wasn’t teased as much. People didn’t chant about Asians. People didn’t pair me up with strange people or call me gay. I wonder if my parents still think that change of schools cured my day dreaming, or if it ever occurred to them how horrid the teasing was.

I still write stories. And occasionally if someone talks for too long I begin to think of them, but I’ve learned a new skill since the last time I sat in that psychiatrist’s chair. The skill of half listening.

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Posted in Parents, Racism, Teasing


Look it Up

23 Jan

When I wanted to know the definition of a word, I would ask my parents, “What is the definition of…” and then the word. My parents would say, “Look it Up.” For example, I wanted to know what “Thou” was really used for, so they said, “Look it up.” The old beat up dictionary with a short proper name definitions in the back would come out and I’d sit it in my lap or on a table and leaf through. I’d find the word, and announce it. Occasionally they really didn’t know and would say so. If I stumbled my mom would insist, “Sound it out.” Which only with my knowledge now can see how much folly it is to say that. She would sound it out with me if I really got stuck.

This was also their answer to something if I wanted to know what something was. So if I wanted to know what a kiwi bird was, I’d have to pull out the index of the huge Britannica or the Compton’s encyclopedia. The order was always the smaller one, then I’d announce I couldn’t find it or that it wasn’t very long at all. I hated actually looking anything. It was tedious, and I liked to skip ahead. If those smaller volumes didn’t have it, then I would have to go to the Index of the Britannica. Then go to the Micropedia section, look in there. When I didn’t find it in there, they would help me with the Macropedia. These volumes were huge and I still remember their weight on my small body and how heavy they were to lift. It was literally physically and mentally demanding in the wrong ways that I hated the process.

Occasionally, I would leaf through the index of cute dogs, horses and cats because Compton’s had and try to memorize the breeds. I found out the breeds of the dogs in the cartoons. For example, Lady and the Tramp, had a mutt, a English Terrier, Scottish Terrier and Bloodhound. I figured out that my Aunt’s Horse was a Thoroughbred. And then try to figure out the cats, and read all of the entry.

I spent so much time looking through those pictures and laboring through looking through the volumes, I was kind of sad to find that when I came back home my parents had given the volumes away. Though it was for the child, bitter memories of having to pull large volumes in her arms and then sort through them, scan through the passages, and so on, it still well… as like my parents would like to say, “Built character.”

These days I’ve already looked it up when they say, “Look it up.” And then they are forced to usually say, “I don’t know.” I’ve learned through this that there is a lot they don’t know, even if they are MIT graduates.

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Posted in Childhood, Parents


Explaining Swimming Cramps

23 Jan

I was staring at the sparkling pool at my Great Aunt’s and Great Uncle’s place. I’d just eaten and I’d had the foolishness of asking why I couldn’t go into the pool. The words besides pool, muscles, blood flow, heart, cramps and drowning washed over me. I always wondered if that meant that if I went into the water at all my leg would automatically cramp, because by his logic, it was furthest from my body and then I would drown, or if it really meant that if I went into the water and started swimming that my whole body would cramp like I have Tetanus into a small ball sink like a cannon and then like a cartoon I would come up with x’s in my eyes.

My cousins were doing other things. I patiently waited. I was thinking the last words, eying the clock and the pool, keeping track like I always did. His talk was about 5 to ten minutes– I don’t remember which. When he finished, I knew the time and said, “Can I go swimming now?”

He looked and said, “Yes.”

My parents did this with almost every scientific and engineering question I asked, no matter how old I was.

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Posted in Childhood, Parents


It Will Build Character

23 Jan

My parents were fond of the words, “It will build character.” But I now know that those words mean one thing and one thing only–you will be miserable through the process and most likely get nothing out of it in the long run besides to entertain other people.

They said this when I needed to brush my teeth, when I should wash my face, when they wanted me to get a job. They said this and I knew what they really meant was, “You will be miserable and you will get nothing out of it.” I never really got anything out of things that were supposed to build character. If anything, I just got more cynical about life.

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Posted in Childhood, Parents



05 Feb

For me, I always had mixed feelings. I would feel deep love for Eomma and Appa, but at the same time I couldn’t quite bring myself to entirely forgive them. It took a long time to do. On the surface I’d forgiven them, but some part of the child me that was still Korean, that remembered and functioned in Korean culture couldn’t forgive them for what happened. She, too, forgave on the surface and loved, but she still felt hurt even if she pushed it back into her mind in respect for her elders.

I am the type of person to forgive many times, but if I am taken advantage of then I do not forgive easily. But the matter of forgiving became a matter of closure. I read many stories on adoption. And the people who succeeded in finding that balance between their various identities were ones who forgave their parents. Meeting them doesn’t close those wounds and sometimes people even find backlash.

Therefore, I knew I had to forgive them if I wanted to function and find other reasons why I wanted to meet them.

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Posted in Adoption Philosophy, Parents



05 Feb

2001: A Space Odyssey (on a movie screen), Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, Yojimbo, Seven Samurai, Everything You Want to Know about Sex, all of Mel Brooks, all of Monty Python, Life of Brian, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Annie Hall, Sleepers, and many others were films my parents subjected my brother and me to as part of our “culturing.” It started with my parents saying something like, “You have to see this to understand American culture.” And then without question we’d watch it.

Some of the stuff we knew we were too young to watch and instead of my parents objecting, we’d object, “Why are you making us watch this? Isn’t this too old for us?” They’d laugh and say it was good for us. My brother would sigh in those moments.

Then we got to our teens, and my brother would get a look in his eyes like he didn’t want to watch it anymore. I’d sit there with a determined analytical face to watch the entire thing. Some of the films I didn’t understand, and I would sit them out anyway. My brother would sit there as long as he could stand and then slink away. He didn’t watch all of African Queen.

This was the pattern we’d take with bad movies. I’d sit them to the bitter end to try to learn something, and he’d slink away or fall asleep. One of the worst movies we watched and he wanted to see was when we were on a car trip. The plot was circular where the hero didn’t really have to do all the things that he did with a hovercraft driving over ice. My brother fell asleep before the gratuitous sex scene that I saw coming three miles away. He never remembered the movie after that, but it was so bad for me and since he made me pay for half, I made him remember it again. He still shakes his head silently.

My parents were so into culturing that they had us memorize all of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. They played it on every car trip. The sound of the doors opening and sighing would be so expected for me I could cue it up. We started to remember lines they forgot.

During “Everything you need to Know about Sex,” they said things that I wanted to purge from my head. Things about marijuana and other things that I won’t go into detail about, not because of their embarrassment, but mine–which they would delight over with a joke. It may be mean, but I’m not giving them the satisfaction.

The culmination of this was every time I said I understood something in a film, my Dad would laugh and then say sternly, “Then the culturing worked.” My mom would always be delightfully happy every time I would say it as it was a purposeful process that we had to go through like sitting through a required class in college you hated. Somehow there was an uneasy comfort to this.

There were moments where I got my sweet revenge by saying that they had to watch this or read this to understand current events. And not everything I gave them they liked. There were also moments where I’d give them Korean culture bits. So all in all it was a fair exchange.

I say this because there are those moments in between that have nothing to do with adoption. Through the noise of asking about birth parents and adoption, and tying all three identities through adoption, there are moments where adoption isn’t on my mind. So past the drama that people ask for, “Where are your real parents?” “Do you want to go back?” “Do you want to find them?” “What do you think of X in the adoption process?” there are moments where that never really matters. It melts away. I wish people would ask more about that in relation to my adoption. “What were the good moments you had with your adoptive parents?” “What are the good things you remember about your birth parents?” “When did you not feel like you were adopted?” “When did it not matter that you were adopted?” Because those moments define me too. Those moments are part of me as well. And I’m sure they are also parts of other adoptees too. Being an adoptee is not all thunder lightening and tears. Sometimes it’s a bit of culturing too.

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Posted in Childhood, Parents

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