September 26, 2011

Getting to know you

We went around the room doing introductions: a labor & delivery nurse, a stay-at-home Mom, a Mary Kay rep (and great-grandmother) in her 80's, a single woman who is a Counselor, a Grandma, a Mom/part-time finance person (with three adopted children), Counselor/Mom, Mom, Mom, and then our fearless leader. This group has met for years on Friday mornings: a tight-knit group who've mostly lived in Oak Cliff all their lives. I was invited to join them by a woman at Tyler Methodist.

I joined the study in the second week. They're going through a book by Beth Moore called "Jesus". It's a study of the book of Luke that takes 18 weeks. After a warm welcome, the group had a lot of questions for me:

"When are you due? Two weeks! My goodness, you're tiny. What are you having? Where is your house? How long have you been here. Are you working?"

"Where's your mother?" (this from the labor/delivery nurse). I answered, "She's been dead for 14 years." With a sympathetic shrug she continued, "Well, maybe it's a God thing you're in this group, we're all happy to help with baby stuff!"

Other women chimed in, "Yeah, I have a 14-year old and a 17-year old who love to babysit. Heck, I'm underemployed right now, I'll come babysit!" "Bring the baby to the group, we'll all love to take turns holding him."

After years of being one of the 'old married people' compared to many of the people in my small groups, being in a group of women that includes a great-grandmother (with fiesty red hair) is wonderful. I also loved that the discussion was very earthy and authentic. It didn't feel like 'Southern Hospitality' where there's a facade of warmth, but then people are stuck with masks (stereotype, I know!).

One of the other things we did with Mom K was to go to a neighborhood bbq in the next block. The hosts were a lesbian couple with twins (one has my first name, the other has a variation on my middle name. Easy to remember!). We sat across the circle of chairs from them and Mom K kept thinking that the guy sitting next to the couple was the Dad. It must have taken 10 variations of me or Jrex saying, "No, it's the two women in the red baseball hats. They're the parents." She also thought there were a lot of housemates there, she didn't realize they were all gay couples.

One of the older gentlemen at the event is actually Santa Claus. He drives a red car with a vanity plate and does dozens of gigs each season. Apparently he really decks out his house, too.

We found out a ton of gossip about our house. They called the guy two owners ago "Na zi Ni ck"; I didn't find out why because his mother was chatting with another group nearby, but I'd met her and she's a really interesting woman who's originally from Germany. I HOPE the name isn't a reference to her heritage, cause that would be really lame. Especially since the woman who was telling me was also going on and on about the super-organic day care that she runs. She called the most recent owner "Daddy War bucks" because he was bald and poured so much money into this house. When we explained which house we'd bought, many of them exclaimed, "Oh! You bought Big Brown!"

I guess this is the joy and the craziness of a "real" neighborhood, huh? People have been here for years and know each others' histories. I wonder what nicknames we'll end up getting? Probably "The Slackers"! We were informed that our street goes nuts with Hallowe'en decorations and Christmas--we've NEVER been good with that. The guy across the street from us does a hearse filled with dry ice, people drop off car loads of children to trick-or-treat our street. I think that this year we have a valid out due to the baby, but I guess we'll be in trouble if we opt out in the future. Guess we still had better stock up on candy, huh? Mom K will be back with us for Halloween this year. Should be fun (and very amusing).

It was strange to go from that BBQ to the Bible study. For the area within a few blocks of us, we have one of the bigger houses and seem like 'rich' people. A little further north in Oak Cliff, there's an area called Kessler Park that has really big mansions, rolling hills, and a golf course. The Bible study is in a house just off the golf course. In that group, I'm definitely NOT one of the rich ones. (Note: the houses below ARE in Kessler, but they're much bigger than the house where the study is...)

We went to a pool party yesterday to welcome new faculty. Jrex was one of the guests of honor. THAT neighborhood has "Oh-My-God!" mansions. It's in a northern part of Dallas that's very wealthy. It all circles back to making me so, so grateful for the house/street/neighborhood where we get to raise a kid. I love the diversity around us and that there's a mix of rich and poor and that we'll get to know people from so many walks of life.

September 19, 2011


Mom K came for a short visit this week. Sept 17 was the second anniversary of Jrex's father's death and she wanted us to spend time remembering him and praying together.

As we prepared for Saturday, I asked lots of questions to try to understand the background and culture for how she wanted to do things. Here's the summary:

Traditionally for the anniversary of a parent's death, the children gather, but so do any other family members who are able to come. In non-Christian Korean tradition, everyone bows to the dead relative's picture and a feast is prepared in their honor. The belief is that on that day the spirit of the ancestor visits the home. Mom didn't say this, but the implication seemed to be that you want the spirit to see that everyone and everything is fine so they won't need to hang around. It's also a way for the dead person to see the family's esteem for them. To my relief, Mom said she doesn't believe that the spirit shows up, she believes that Dad is in heaven, but that he's aware of what we're doing.

As a result, the whole meal was food that Dad would have liked: a wonderful seafood stew (squid, scallops, fish, mushrooms, tofu and other ingredients) and another stew filled with variations of rice cakes. Of course, there were also lots of side dishes. When setting the table, all the settings were white (placemats, napkins, etc). Most of the time, we use cloth napkins, but Dad always asked for a paper towel, so we set the table with paper towels. Mom wore an all white outfit. Neither of us had known about the white stipulation, so we just wore ordinary clothing.

For the ceremony, Mom bought flowers. Five big roses for her, Jrex, me, his sister and her husband and two small roses for Asian niece and our unborn son. I printed out a picture of Dad and put it into a frame I had. She bought a new candle that we lit and placed in front of the picture and the flowers.

Mom had prepared scriptures she wanted us to read about the resurrection and how we have hope. Then we sang Amazing Grace (Dad's favorite) and each of us prayed and thanked God for his life. Mom shared memories of their life together. She was honest and laughingly said, "Jrex knows, when Daddy was alive, I complained about him. When he died, I saw how much he did and how I didn't have to worry about things because he took care of them. When he was alive, I thought all problems were him, after he died, I realized it was me, too. If I had to do it all over again, I would choose him. No one else is like him." She spoke about how hard it was to move to a new country and learn a new language at the ages of 38 and 32. I'd been afraid that it would feel like a strange combination of animism/Buddhism and Christianity, but it was just a good time to remember together.

She asked what my family does to remember my Mom's death. I was embarrassed to admit that after the first year when we gathered together, we mostly just called each other on that day. And that now, 14 years later, we rarely do that. It sounds like she expects to keep doing something for Dad the rest of her life. She also made it sound like it was a really big deal that we need to show up at her house next year for this. She said that her community in NYC keep asking her questions. Her implication was that they are judging her for having disrespectful children who neglect their parents. We do need to go and help her sort and clear out her house, so we might as well go at that time and deal with all of it together.

Do any of you remember those who have died with any special ceremony? Have you experienced another culture's ceremonies?

September 12, 2011

We ARE the bad kids in the back of the class

First of four "Prepared Childbirth" classes tonight. I think that Jrex and I are definitely in the 'which of these is not like the others?' category. All the other parents seemed to be doing the blissed out, miracle of baby thing. Of course, most of the people in the class are having their kids in late November or December. NO one else has procrastinated as badly as we have (we're due 7 days after the class finishes...whoops). I thought the whole focus was going to be on labor and delivery, but this first class was all about interviewing and then introducing the people in your little group. Discussing a chart of pregnancy symptoms and how to relieve them, hearing about the right biomechanics to use during pregnancy, etc.

Given the fact that I sit on a balance ball all day as my 'chair', it was amusing/annoying when they spent 10 minutes going over the benefits of using one. I do think that it's been a big part of why I can still pick things up off the floor (plié/relevé...hips apart and down, swoop and rise) and why I'm not getting back pain. Apparently, it can also help get the kid into the right position in my body. I don't know if it's true or not, but they said it might help avoid backache labor. I'll let you know.

We were in the second-to-last row making snarky comments to each other the whole class. He kept correcting the teachers' anatomy explanations (in a whisper to me), I kept muttering about having to hear about how to manage pregnancy symptoms. After I checked off what symptoms I've had and it was only a third of the preggers possibilites, I poked him in the arm, "You are SO lucky! This could have been so much worse." He raised his eyebrows and peered at me over the top of his glasses, "No, YOU are so lucky." I laughed, "I KNOW I'm lucky, I just don't think you appreciate how lucky YOU are. You should be much more grateful for how easy I've made this for you!"

During class, the baby was really pushing and stretching and making me uncomfortable, I nudged him again, "This child is already a trouble-maker. He's definitely YOUR son." Jrex shook his head in mock sadness, "I keep having to point out to you that this whole thing was YOUR idea!"

Everyone else was being wonderful and polite and listening intently to the teacher. Oops. On the way home I commented that it's a good thing we weren't in high school together cause we'd have gotten into lots of trouble. I could blame Jrex, but really, since 10th grade, I've consistently been the bad kid in the back of the class. It must drive teachers crazy to have me around: I'm paying attention and listening, but usually just restless enough to make comments to people sitting near me. I've sat giggling through way too many classes, sermons and lectures with a wide variety of people for me to be able to blame Jrex.

How are we going to NOT corrupt a child?

September 10, 2011

Follow up to my friendly email

Remember this post? I emailed a local blogger to try to connect. For weeks I heard nothing back from her and assumed my email had ended up in her junk folder and been lost forever. I was a little bummed, but shrugged it off. A couple weeks ago, this showed up in my inbox:
I am a terrible, terrible person.
Got your email and then my life got crazy.
Love that you're here - unless of course you've moved because it was so long ago that you wrote this - and would love to get together. We're in your neck of the woods a little and could meet you for lunch.
You have an amazing story and I'd love to hear more!
Let me know when you're available and I'll take you to lunch to make up for my rude delayed response. I blame the children.
We ended up getting together a week later. She's as funny in person as she seemed she'd be. Even though we were in a chic coffee shop with all kinds of posh drink options she asked the waitress in a conspiratorial tone, "I know this is a violation of everything your shop stands for, but would it be possible to get a Diet Coke?"

For over two hours we chatted. She wanted more details about how Jrex and I ended up in Dallas, how I got from there to here, how my childhood impacted my life. She shared some of what her kids are dealing with. Unlike my parents, she and her husband have continued to attend the suburban church that 'sent' them into West Dallas. For a long time, this has kept them in a limbo where they were "in but not of" two very different worlds. In the past year, they've begun to hunt for a neighborhood-based church option. Their part of Dallas is primarily African-American and I think it's been rare for her to be able to talk with a peer who understands the mentality of both the inner city as well as wealthy suburban culture.

I could also relate stories of how our church handled our Wednesday night dinner & worship service (we had a fun activity after the worship so people were more likely to stay for the whole evening. Grocery Bingo, anyone?), how I'd worked with kids and had to start by getting them to respect me before worrying about them liking me. She kept bemoaning that they'd done everything backwards.

I hope we can spend more time together in the years to come. She's amazing and her family all sound like people worth knowing. It's fun to reach out and have good things happen. It's part of what I enjoy about moving--connecting to different people around the country.

One of my college friends had an interesting suggestion for me. I told her about the conversation with MH and how part of me wishes I had time to commit to being a mentor and working with her husband and their program (they connect mentors when a kid is in 4th grade and ask for a commitment between mentor and kid until the kid graduates from high school!) My college friend suggested that I ask MH if she knows a teenage Mom who might want to get together with me for Mommy play dates after our kid is born. A way to combine both of us figuring out motherhood together with mentoring. I keep forgetting to email MH about it, but this post is a good reminder! Mom's out there, is that taking on too much? Should I wait and see how much time/energy I have? Or set something up now?

September 7, 2011

So much to say

Baby update
The fluid in the kidneys went down, so no worries there. The Kid is on track in terms of size, weight gain, amniotic fluid, head down, etc. In fact, everything looked so good that Dr. N doesn't need to see us for two weeks (we go back next Monday). Jrex asked Dr. N if he thought it would be o.k. if we took a weekend trip down to Austin (3-hour drive). Dr. N laughed and said, "No. Try Ft. Worth instead."

So we did.

Weekend activities
I dragged Jrex over to the Modern last Saturday. We both loved it. Here he is playing with echoes inside a huge sculpture.
Here I am in front of my current art crush, Anselm Keifer:

Also by Kieffer:

After lunch in the museum café, we checked out a Ft. Worth wine shop. Jrex was underwhelmed. So far, he's found a decent, but overpriced, shop in Dallas, as well as another that's better in price, but with more limited selection. I'm amused that I've learned Dallas geography through furniture shopping while he's getting to know it through his hunt for a good wine store.

Speaking of furniture shopping, Lowes had a big end-of-season sale, so we stopped by Sunday afternoon and picked up patio furniture. Sunday night the weather broke (went from 100's to 80's overnight), so Monday we had a wonderful time in the yard putting this together:

The timing was perfect since we had a family of four come over for Asian potluck on Monday night. I made Korean ribs and bought side dishes from Hmart, she made shrimp and broccoli as well as homemade ice cream and dessert rolls stuffed with Hawaiian plantains and jack fruit.

This family lives a block away (I introduced myself to them a while ago. Cause I'm pushy like that...) Anyway, we really enjoyed our time with them. Their little 3-year old girl followed Muttola around the whole evening. The mutt wasn't sure why there was a kid with a hand on her back the whole night, but she tolerated it fairly well. The wife commented a couple times that since she moved here a year ago from the Philippines, this is the first time they've done dinner with another family. Turns out the husband is also an avid Yankees fan, so I foresee some World Series nights in our future (how I suffer).

Sunday night, Enthusiastic Scientist and two of his friends came by the house. From our place, we walked two blocks to the Bishop Arts District for a Margarita fest. For $20, attendees sampled margaritas from 20 restaurants. There were also street tacos and BBQ sandwiches for sale. After getting some food with the group, it wasn't that exciting for me to wait in line for margaritas I couldn't enjoy (plus the gravity of my heavy belly caught up with me) so I headed home early. On the way, I passed a neighbor's porch. He was out there with two other couples and invited me to come up and join them. The other people all live within a few blocks; one of the couples has two boys: a 3-year and a 1-year old. They were happy to hear that we're adding to the neighborhood boy quota. I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with sidewalks and front porches, but without white picket fences (ha!). Who knew I'd find that in Dallas!

Church home?
On Sunday, Jrex and I visited Tyler Street Methodist (TSM). I'd visited once before and felt at home there. It's ironic that after growing up in a quirky Lutheran church, then attending non-denominational charismatic churches, we might end up back in a quirky yet 'traditional' church for raising our family.

Oak Cliff churches seem to do a lot of self-segregation: white, black, OR hispanic. In general, there are few Asians in the area and I haven't seen any in the other churches I've visited. TSM has a white guy as Senior Pastor, a black woman as Associate Pastor and an Asian woman as Director of Music and Fine Arts. Sprinkled throughout the mostly white congregation are Asians, Hispanics, and African-Americans. People are really friendly without being creepy and they feel very alive and genuine. Overall, the church is deeply involved in the neighborhood, many live here, others work and volunteer locally. The church runs a private K-12 academy, a retirement community and is involved in a local AIDS hospice. They do drama (Cottonpatch Gospel performance), music (Jazz Vespers coming up) as well as various Bible study groups and life groups (parenting/financial training/men's breakfast, etc).

It must be my nesting urge in overdrive: my normal pattern is to want to check out every option before picking one, but this time, I liked the church when I visited, wanted Jrex to give a thumbs up or down (he gave thumbs up) and am happy to just start going there and see what happens.

Jrex started his first 'real' job!
Yesterday was the first day at UT. Jrex is getting a nice sized lab (room for eight people to work), plus an attached office for his private domain. The guy who'd been in the space is being moved elsewhere in the building (the whole floor is getting shuffled around for lots of reasons, not just Jrex's arrival). He's mostly out, but lots of his equipment is still in the space. Fortunately, Jrex gets along well with the guy's lab manager and they're working together to clear out the rest of the lab. Jrex's lab tech starts today (he hired her over the phone based on a strong recommendation from Enthusiastic Scientist), so they'll be meeting each other for the first time this morning.

The father of lung cancer research at UT, JM, took Jrex around to introduce him to everyone on the floor. He also invited Jrex to join them this morning as they interviewed another prospective person. Overall, everyone was warm and welcoming. JM's administrator took Jrex to get his ID picture taken and show him around the campus. She commented that as much as JM enjoys science, his real passion if for mentoring people. After being in a sink-or-swim lab that's welcome news!

I NEVER thought I'd be saying this, but it really does feel like Dallas, TX is the right place and the right time for us. After so many years of uphill battles and frustration, it feels oddly disorienting to be in the 'sweet spot' where everything feels like it's coming together.

Of course, with a baby coming into the equation, this may just be the calm before the storm, right? (hmm...perhaps Jrex's ability to find the dark cloud on a sunny day is rubbing off on me...)