December 31, 2008

This is SO mental

On Monday I had my very first ultrasound. I'm sure that guys suffer much worse once they hit 40 and have to have someone looking at their colon, but it's a strange experience to have someone probing areas you don't normally share with strangers.

The nurse at my OBGYN called me back an hour after the test (LOVE the digital age), "We need you to set up an appointment with Dr. O as soon as possible..." Fortunately, she continued before my heart could stop, "You appear to have a dermoid cyst on one of your ovaries. It's benign and not dangerous at all, but it is 8 cm and needs to come out. We can probably do a lapriscopic surgery, but you'll need to discuss all this with your doctor."

I came home and told my home doctor about it, his eyes grew big, "Wow, 8 cm. That's impressive. It's the size of a baseball!" What! I hadn't actually figured out how big it was, that's huge! He continued, "I've seen some the size of grapefruits, so it's not unheard of, but that's a good size."

I called my friend, Ms. Sword. She's had some experience with cysts; in addition to being impressed by the size, she added, "A dermoid cyst! That's so cool. Those are the ones with hair and teeth and things growing in them."

At first I didn't feel at all emotional about the whole thing. As the shock is wearing off, I'm realizing I want it out NOW. Not because of any health risk or need to get pregnant, rather, I feel dirty. I feel like I have some dustball that's rolled up and started growing in my belly and I don't want it. Ms. Sword's comment has given me a picture of the thing: it's like I'm carrying Mr. It's love child. Out, out, dam'ned spot!

The first opening with my OB is January 30th. Now that I know it's there, every time I bend over I think I can feel it. On Sunday I climbed the walls at the gym with no thought for my stomach. Today? I crouch to pet the dog and say, "Ow!" Jrex started out sympathetic, but as I keep saying, "8 cm? I've got a baseball in my guts. Ow. My stomach!", he's started to roll his eyes.

Last night, he grinned at me and said, "I'm downgrading it to a raquetball." Hmph.

December 25, 2008

What we carry for each other

Jrex and I woke early this morning. Dad was still asleep. We chatted for a couple hours (with a dog walk intermission). One of the hard parts about having a houseguest is missing each other. Normally, it’s just the two of us, so we take our daily chats for granted. It was good to catch up a bit.

We discussed how, in my house growing up, it truly was survival of the fittest. Kids are by nature relatively self-focused, so without both parents reinforcing consideration, a kid isn’t going to learn to think of others. Much as we love him, our Dad was an only child and his default option is oblivious. Poor Mom, she didn’t have a skill set for dealing with little kids since her main tool for discipline was yelling. Dad backed her up as much as he could, but due to his entrepreneurial housing firm, he wasn’t around much. This created kids who could endure emotional onslaughts then shrug it off and do what they wanted anyway. For my sister and me, that means husbands who have no idea how to get us to change behaviors that drive them crazy. It means we’re often bulls in china shops of other’s emotions. Ironically, my brother is the most sensitive and thoughtful of the three of us.

On the other hand, for Jrex, he might have been relentlessly trained to think of others, but he wasn’t allowed to feel his emotions. His father, before becoming a Christian, was a very angry, abrasive and oblivious man*. His Mom could only handle one person in the family being angry and wouldn’t let the kids express frustration. Jrex wasn’t allowed to pursue music despite his teacher urging his parents to allow him to go in that direction. Wasn’t allowed to take a year off after college, despite being exhausted and clinically depressed. He’s had to think of others at the expense of his own soul.

As a wise friend once observed to us, we usually marry the person who is perfect for either continuing our childhood traumas or helping to heal them. We’ve both made huge choices to try to be part of healing what our parents never gave us. It means that over the years, I have had to draw out Jrex’s anger. Which, unfortunately, is often at me. It’s challenging to keep asking for more details instead of reacting defensively! It’s meant that over the years, he’s had to turn off the stove after I cook, endure my relentless projects, and grit his teeth through my fend-for-yourself attitude and my inconsiderate actions.

Today, for Christmas, he wrote me a poem that recognized my choices to remain in our marriage. Knowing that he sees what I’m doing was the best present I could have asked for today. (Though Mom K sent me a very sparkly, very Korean red sweater jacket! And my Dad made me some very cool hardware store accessories—really!)

Part of what makes life meaningful and healing is what we can carry for each other. The places we can give each other grace to be who we are--the flaws and the beauty. We're both grateful for the parents we've had. We're incredibly rich people in terms of our legacies from them. And I'm incredibly grateful that we have each other.

May you find someone willing to carry with you this year. Merry Christmas (and/or Happy Holidays)!

*Of course, he survived years in occupied Korea, years in the army and relocation to a new country, new language and new customs. He had reasons for the anger. And, after becoming a Christian, truly transformed into a big-hearted, generous man.

December 22, 2008

He's a good Dad

We arrived late, but no later than many of the other guests. Double Name played the host and welcomed in the guests, bustled around putting coats away and was generally very helpful. My Dad wandered around starting friendly chats with each person he met. If I went over to make sure he was ok, he shrugged me off. He was fine. By the end of the evening I had strangers coming over and saying, "Oh, you're OTRdad's daughter. I heard..."

Toward the end of the evening, Double Name and Graceful came over to me and asked if I'd be willing to explain The Jumping of the Broom. Mostly, I knew it as a slave tradition: when the owners didn't allow marriage, the slaves who wanted to marry jumped together over a broom to declare themselves bound to each other. However, I knew that my Dad knew the history better than I did. I went over and asked him to tell me about it, to make sure I was correct. As he explained it, I realized he was the one who should say it. Our family is not at all shy (you're shocked, right?), so he was happy to tell a story to a room full of new friends.

We called the room to attention. Double Name and Graceful stood behind my Dad as he explained, "Many of us think that weddings belong in a church. The reality is, the church really didn't get involved in wedding ceremonies until the 13th century. Before that, all over the world, people became married simply by declaring they were. In different cultures, this was shown in different ways. Here in the United States, we think of jumping of the broom is a slave tradition. Yes, it was used then, but more than that, it was a way many African cultures used to declare a wedding. Today, Double Name and Graceful want to declare their union before you as they participate in this historic ritual."

I held one end, my Dad held the other as our friends grinned at each other, counted to three and jumped!

December 20, 2008

It's all relative

Tonight is the wedding reception for Graceful and Double Name. I mentioned them a while ago when I got their e-vite and thought they'd eloped. They hadn't. In fact, they just got married this past Wednesday by a justice of the peace. Graceful's sister was the witness.

It hasn't been an easy journey. Graceful is Chinese and Double Name barely has a family. His mom was white, his father a light-skinned 'black' man. He has hazel eyes, blondish hair and tan skin. Her parents saw a black man. They gave her statistics about black men being 7 times more likely to leave their wives. Relative after relative called her to challenge her logic, question her thinking and batter her towards changing her mind. She responded as graciously as she could, but was clearly overwhelmed.

A couple weeks ago, her parents went to see a Christian Counselor. They brought the letter they'd written to Graceful. All their logic in one tidy package. The counselor took them to task and told them what they needed to do in order to maintain a relationship with their daughter. They actually listened! In a surprising turn of events, they asked if they could host the wedding reception. Obviously, Double Name wasn't that excited about the idea. These people had mostly either ignored him completely or grilled him within an inch of his brain.

A week ago, Double Name picked me up at the train station so we could grab Graceful and go down to the climbing gym. As we drove, I asked him how it was going. He's had to be the strong, steady one for Graceful; I think he appreciated a place to vent.

I commiserated, "Look, there's nothing you can do in the short term to make them like you. It will just take time. If you can bring yourself to do it, accepting the invitation to do the party at their house would be huge. Sure, it won't feel as much like your own gala, but it's an important bridge to build."

He sucked it up and we'll be driving down there tonight.

This morning, I was climbing with our third partner, Petite Slovakian. She was asking why Graceful's parents didn't like Double Name. She'd met him the previous week. I explained, "Even for me, it was a three year campaign for my husband's parents to consider our marriage. Double Name has it even harder since he's African-American."

Petite Slovakian looked confused, "He's African American?"

She couldn't tell by looking at him. Yet it's the main thing Graceful's parents see.

December 18, 2008

Life is as strange as fiction

Two nights ago, Dad and I went to see Cadillac Records. Many of the images and ideas from the movie continue to play in my head. The emotional arc of the movie was the rise and subsiding of Muddy Waters, famous Blues man from the 1950's. He began as a sharecropper and ended up in Chicago. The character played by Adrian Brody essentially builds a record label with Muddy Waters' music as the foundation. It's an ensemble cast full of amazing acting and singing.

Yet the images that echo are of violence. Police brutality when one of the musicians, drunk, forgets that he is a black man in the early 1960's and not the rock star his fans adore. Casual shootings. Threats of violence. Beatings. Tattered emotions rubbed to the point of agony by life's edges. A reminder that even though we now will have an African-American (truly!) in the White House, within my father's lifetime, it was a revelation and a revolution for a black male to be treated as a man.

December 15, 2008

Self-sufficiency: nature or nurture?

Saturday I called my Dad. For Thanksgiving, he'd stayed with my sister, then took a train south. For the past week, he'd been at a Trappist monastery in northern California. He'd planned a weekend trip to Susanville (small town where he lived for a year as a boy), and then over the pass to Pyramid Lake and Reno, NV. However, with snow in the pass he didn't want to end up like the Donner Party, so he was just going to hang out in Chico for a couple days. He'd arrive at our place Tuesday afternoon, as planned.

We chatted about other things and then signed off.

I mentioned all this to Jiu in passing. His first comment was, "You told him he could come early, right?"

I blinked. Huh? It never occurred to me. Dad certainly wasn't hinting at an earlier arrival either. That night we had dinner with Lovey and Dovey, who are both Asian. When I told the story, they were also shocked I hadn't invited him to come earlier.

I laughed, "Well, I guess I come by my self-sufficiency honestly, right?"

In our family, my Mom always complained that the four of us were thoughtless. She was the only one who tried to make life better for the whole family. The rest of us only thought about ourselves.

I could go on, the litany usually took 10-15 minutes. I clearly tuned it out within the first couple lines. Over the years, I'd like to think I've become more thoughtful of others, but I think there is a core of me that feel like it's everyone for themselves. I thought it was due to an absent-minded father. You know, if you can figure out a bus route home, then you don't have to wait the extra hour for Dad to remember to pick you up. I think it's deeper than that.

When I remember visiting colleges, I always went alone or with a high school friend. I'm not talking about local colleges either! University of Chicago (in a bad part of town), went with a friend. Oberlin College: drove up with my best friend. Hampshire College? I flew to New England alone. Took a bus from Springfield up to Amherst. Took a local bus from Amherst out to the college. Met with someone in the Admission office. Asked for a recommendation for where to stay. Was invited to crash on the floor of a student's room. Did that.

At the time it all seemed normal. My family couldn't afford to all go, I needed to see the schools. We did what we had to do.

It's only in retrospect, as I watch friends escorting their children to various colleges, that I realize what I did was crazy! Obviously, I'd earned my parents trust, but still.

I called Dad yesterday and invited him to head our way. Of course, being The International Man of Mystery (as designated by my two best friends), he already had plans to hang out in Berkeley. He'll save on one night of hotels and come to us tonight instead of tomorrow. He wasn't twiddling his thumbs or pining away alone in some hotel room. In my family, we were bred to be independent. If it needs to be done, let's do it! No waiting for the whole group. No consensus. Barely look around to make sure anyone is with you. Let's go!

No wonder I drive Jrex crazy at times! It's not just un-Asian, it's almost anti-Asian. Totally thoughtless. Poor Jrex. I wish my Mom had lived longer so he'd have had an ally.

December 12, 2008

Irony abounds!

Guess who just sent a friend request on Facebook? The girl I just mentioned in the previous post. The one who was my frienemy in 1st-3rd grade. Apparently, she's also a Christian now.

Too funny.

December 9, 2008

Getting to know me...getting to know all about me...

In college, I loved the dining hall. Not just for all the food options, which were actually good, but for the people. I would eat my meal with my closest friends, then spend an hour or so going from table to table to banter with other buddies. First year, one of my friends, Ego Boy, and I used to tour through the dorms from room to room of our mutual friends.

Even in high school I rarely stayed with one group the entire lunch. I'd wander around and chat for a bit with various clusters of people. I seemed to be good friends with key people in different groups. I was never the center of a posse, but comfortable with the clans and cliques that each sat in their designated zones: the stoners on the side of the soccer field, the preppy crowd on the front steps, the geeks on the back steps, the art crowd clustered in Handsome Art Teacher's room.

If I tried to stay with just one group, I felt claustrophobic. It meant being dragged into the minutia of silly feelings. I didn't mind being there for a deep talk or a crisis, but the day to day petty dramas drove me crazy.

I married an introvert. That kind of social skimming drives him CRAZY. He's had to teach me to slow down and not cram so many people into my life. I've helped him to connect with a broader spectrum of friends.

Tonight, I realized that what I love about Facebook is that it allows me to do my quick scan of the dining hall. It sets the stage for deeper conversations when I connect with someone on the phone or in person; yet, in the meantime, lets me feel aware of what's going on. Jrex sees little point in Facebook. I've been trying to get him to join the fun, but I now see why he might not like it. He enjoys connecting deeply with a few people and FB is NOT the forum for that.

As I'm writing this post, I'm realizing how much this is a dynamic tension in our lives. I would call myself a skimmer, a sampler. Once I've solved the puzzle, figured out the dynamic, learned my lessons, I'm ready for a new job, a new city, a new home. I keep my friends and collect more as I go. Jrex wants to stay in one place. He judges me for my 'flightiness', I get impatient with always WAITING and being still and patient. It's intriguing to me to see how deep the skimming tendency is in me.

I know the Lord's been teaching me about rest and about being rooted and established in love. Finding my stability in Him. I've been resisting Him, too! Why do they both want to make me into something so totally different than who I've been all my life? It's hard to transform from being a stream into being a tree.

The bigger question is, why does stillness feel so threatening? Why does one small group make me feel claustrophobic?

Does it go back to my two 'best friends' in 1st through 3rd grade? How Redhead would play me and the other girl off each other OVER and OVER and OVER. Did I vow to never get trapped like that again? Is it from the three other families that were the core of our church growing up? The weird inter-family dramas that were played out among adults and kids. Being part of the 'late', 'dirty', 'disorganized', 'loud', 'poor' family?

Hmm...this post has actually helped me realize a few things. I've been protecting myself from additional battle scars like those two patterns ever since. I suspect the Lord is trying to heal something in me that I never thought needed healing.

December 8, 2008

Found the perfect gift

Well, not really 'found', partially 'created'. Many of you may already know about It's a site that facilitates book publication. Anyway, this summer we spent time with the In-Laws and Jrex's sister and her family. Using my photos, as well as Dad K's, I created a photo book (with both of us on the cover as co-authors).

It took a long time to find the correct images. Of course, blurb provides layouts, but I eventually got a little frustrated with them and created my own layout in Photoshop. However, I think for any non-anal, non-designer types, blurb's layouts are a great solution!

I'm publishing three copies: one for us, one for the In-Laws and one for Sis. Voila! I look thoughtful and we save a couple hundred bucks buying individual gifts for each person.

The funny thing was how 'political' everything got. Selecting flattering pictures. Finding a blend of my style of casual, natural people shots, while including the requisite number of posed, stiff, centered people shots to cater to my In-Laws generation of Koreans. Writing up the story of hiking in order to reflect Mom K's enthusiasm while completely downplaying Dad K's lack of breathing ability (smoker + steep climb=sloooooooowwwww). Making sure to include enough of his photos to flatter him. He's got a great eye for landscapes, but he tends to center any human being. AND he doesn't know how to use his wonderful Nikon D60, so all his photos were tinted blue. Fortunately, I know how to do color correction, so they look great in the book.

I think I've navigated the relational shoals and created something that will honor and bless my father-in-law. Now I just have to figure out something for my own father...and Kindles are backordered for the next 11 weeks. Sigh. Anyone got any great gift ideas?

December 5, 2008


Apparently members of my high school class are in the running to be featured in the 6th season of High School Reunion. If I send in an application, I could go for a paid two-week vacation with friends from back in the day.

If you had that opportunity, what would you do?

December 4, 2008

Jrex sums it up . . .

My company has global offices. In our particular branch, we have around 80 people. Yesterday they laid off 15. Captain Chaos is gone. Fine. Dancer and British Boy from my department are gone. That sucks. We got through the morning of layoffs. Took British Boy out for a farewell lunch (Dancer is in Europe on PTO. Imagine getting laid off while on vacation?!) Came back, went to the pep talk by our department VP, The Devil. Blah, blah, blah: "We decided to take a pessimistic outlook and cut deep and hard just once rather than be conservative and do another round later." In that meeting, Savvy Tech Woman was asking great questions. She came by later and we chatted about our shock as well as a few things related to design stuff I've been helping her with. At 3:55 pm she had to scoot across the building for her one-on-one with Fresh Face--the guy in charge of our branch.

Around 5 pm, The Devil stopped by to check how we were doing. I shared my hope that Dancer would be able to continue as a contractor out of our London office. She's been there for two months doing an exchange and they want to keep her on. I told The Devil, "Dancer has been Savvy Tech Woman's go-to person on the technology update. With Dancer gone, she'll be coming to me!"

The Devil looked straight at me: "No, she won't"


"What do you mean?"

"She was just laid off. She was the last of the layoffs."


When I got home and downloaded my day onto poor Jrex's head, he listened well. Then he said the words that will be echoing in my head throughout the rah rah "Town Hall" meeting we're supposed to have this afternoon.

"I heard a talk by a guy at Hopkins. He was an oncologist who tried it all: private practice, industry, academia. He told us, 'One of the things I learned in all my different opportunities: You may love the institution, but the institution doesn't love you'."

December 1, 2008

Bridging the Gap

Saturday night we had dinner with friends. The husband, Korean Scientist, and his wife, Gentle Smiles, moved here to raise their son Curious in the States. We've known them since Baltimore.

They've come to our house as part of group events, we've seen them at other parties thrown by people in lab. At most of those occasions, Gentle Smiles and I pulled to the side to talk for a while. We compared notes on Mothers. Me, discussing my MIL, her discussing her own mother. The dread of saying the wrong thing and ending up with the Mother living with us. The pressure to measure up. What it's like for her to raise a child here.

When our Thanksgiving plans changed, this family was my first thought. Jrex called and they already had plans. The irony was, they'd already asked him what we were doing for Thanksgiving, and made their plans after he said we had a guest. So they invited us over Saturday instead.

I went expecting a Korean feast. Instead, when we got there Gentle Smiles was nervously setting out cloth napkins, forks and knives. Telling her husband he should have offered us drinks. I could tell she was trying to do things the American way. She even had a cheese plate with crackers, along with the more Korean fresh fruit. I was very touched by the gesture, but wanted her to be able to relax and have fun. Nothing I said seemed to calm the anxiety.

As she was getting the food on the table for dinner, somehow the subject of chopsticks came up. I laughed about how I'd grown up eating with chopsticks, but had to learn a new technique when I got married; metal chopsticks require a more efficient method than the child's skills I'd had. Her eyes grew round, "You can eat with metal chopsticks? Show me." She'd been using a pair of wooden chopsticks to mix some of the food. I used them to grab a piece of kimchi and put it on my plate.

I laughed, "It would feel strange to eat kimchi with a fork".

She beamed and bustled to the kitchen, "I'll get chopsticks then."

As we all grabbed food with metal chopsticks, she smiled more and stopped trying to make sure everything was ok. Her husband seemed to relax back into his chair. Conversation flowed more readily. She asked what foods I knew how to make and was impressed (bulgoghi, kalbi, stew, jae jang myun, odicha). I told her about the first time I went to Jrex's Mom's house. She had me help make the jae jang myun. (It's a black bean paste sauce that covers noodles and any ingredients one chooses to include.)

"She plopped a huge pile of squid in front of me, with tentacles. They were the little, red squid, but they still had tentacles. I had to shut down the Midwestern girl in my head who was grossed out and cut them into small pieces. Everything I ate, I just shut that girl down and tried it. I loved all the food."

We ended up staying until 10:30 pm. Unfortunately, I did play the ignorant American and didn't stay to clean the whole kitchen with her . . . but, I think they needed to get Curious to bed and he'd have never settled down if we were there.

I thought it was interesting that after all our previous conversations about Korean culture, she'd assumed she had to do things 'my' way. Perhaps next time, she'll just do a Korean feast! Or, perhaps I will.