The Complexity of Being and Becoming Hmong American #AmplifyMelanatedVoices

My Dear Readers,

Today we have the privilege of learning from Kathy Moua, a Hmong American woman, daughter of refugees, sister, and auntie. Minister and teacher during the day, truth seeker at night. Coffee drinker on the beach during off days.



George Floyd was killed by a white police while an Asian American policeman stands by and does nothing to stop it.

 This was the headline and photo that was being passed and posted around in the greater Asian American community all week after George’s murder. My heart sank and my body shut down because though it wasn’t noted, I knew he, the Asian American policeman, was Hmong.

 

I was sad that another Black life was taken. I was angry at Tou for doing nothing. 

I wanted to immediately disown and disassociate with him.

I was ashamed and wanted to share his photo and say, “Don’t be like him.”

Yet something from my gut stopped me from reacting in that way, and instead I wept.

I wept for George and then I wept for Tou.

 

George, your humanity was taken away from you. You suffered while one of my people did nothing. You cried and no one helped you. My soul grieved for your life.

 

Tou, what were you thinking and feeling? Did you even care that George was crying out, “I can’t breathe?” Were you afraid of your White counterparts? Are you so comfortable with the system that allowed you that badge that it didn’t matter that George was being killed? I don’t want you to go to prison because of what happens in prisons, but I also hate that you did nothing to help George. What is your story? Did you think about George’s story? Why did you do nothing?! 

 

I wept because I felt a piece of me in George and I felt a piece of me in Tou. To be clear, the humanity I saw in Tou does not justify his complicity in George’s death. These complicated feelings reminded me what my friend, La, wrote in her piece yesterday; that we are all interconnected. I realized that what Hmong Americans might be feeling during this time relates to some of the Hmong/Black violence against one another. When our parents arrived as refugees to this country in the late 70s, they entered into a Black/White race binary under white supremacy. With no knowledge of the English language while working to make ends meet, a lot of the Hmong ended up in Black neighborhoods. The Black communities were rejected to receive loans for homes and businesses which lead to severe poverty. Under the pressure of these conditions our communities fought to survive and sometimes ended up viewing each other as enemies. Our communities need healing. My hope is that as we meet one another in the streets, we can change this narrative. 



As I was reading my feed on Facebook, two stories stood out to me.

The first was a post by a Hmong American woman named Tracy Yang. These are her words, “Every time I hear about a police killing, I always experience a bit of PTSD. I never talk about it much, but now is the time I tell it publicly. On September 27th, 2002, St. Paul police officer Michael Thurston shot my father, Ki Yang, 9 times in the chest and left him to die in my mother’s arms. He got to keep his job and received a two-week paid leave. Thurston claimed self-defense. Till this day, Michael Thurston walks around, living his life. Meanwhile, my family and I have had to move on with our lives with a hole in our hearts that will never heal. Justice matters. Change needs to happen. For peace, love, and unity. #NoJusticeNoPeace #JusticeforFloyd

 

The second was the story of Youa Vang, a 60 year old Hmong mother, who went out to the protests to show her solidarity in Minneapolis. Her 19-year-old son was killed by the Minneapolis police in 2006. Black leaders shared their platform with her at the protest and she cried out for justice for George and every life taken from the MPD. 

 

A ripple effect of stories like these seem to be surfacing to remind us that this too has happened in our community. As we listen to each other’s stories, may we see that our fight is not against our Black siblings. Do we not see that the Hmong community have been oppressed by the systems of white supremacy similar to our Black siblings? Hmong Americans, is it perhaps that we have been blind to this from being racialized under the Modeled Minority Myth? White supremacy says, it’s a black and white conversation when it comes to the social construct of race. It has disembodied us.

 

Our fight is against the infiltration of white supremacy in all its forms. It has us questioning each other’s humanity and dignity rather than seeing and believing each other’s realities. There is room for all the complexities of how we are related to one another. When we rely on the labels and narratives given by white supremacy toward one another, we will find it hard to stand in solidarity. 

 

Understanding our histories and identities is complex and takes a lot of work. I get it. I’m tired too. But do the work anyway. Have hard conversations. Read books. Ask your Hmong siblings who get it for help. Do it daily. Complexity is not an excuse for your anti-Black racism. 

 

Because you know what isn’t complex? The fact that Black Lives Matter. 

Do you know what is beyond exhausting? Centuries of fighting against the senseless killings of Black Lives.

 

 

My Dear Readers,

Some of you may have posted a black square on IG or used #BlackOutTuesday as a show of solidarity with the Black community. This week folks also were encouraged by @JessicaWilson.msrd and @BlackAndEmbodied to #AmplifyMelanatedVoices – 

In the spirit of #AmplifyMelanatedVoices we have the honor of listening to and learning from three Christian Hmong women. If you don’t know anything about the Hmong people, LMGTFY . Remember, you don’t have to limit your learning about the Asian American diaspora to the month of May.



Dear Hmong Christians, A Love Letter #AmplifyMelanatedVoices

My Dear Readers,

Today we have the honor of listening La Thao, a Hmong American woman born and raised in the Midwest and a sleep-deprived minister, thinker and creator.

 

To my Hmong Christian family,

We need to talk about racism and our complicity when it comes to violence toward marginalized communities, particularly in the Black community. I won’t quote a Bible verse to tell you what I’m going to say. I definitely will not quote a popular, White American pastor. Do I really need all of that just to ask for your compassion?

Last week when we discovered that a Hmong American police officer, Tou Thao, was involved in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Hmong community was pushed into the conversation of racism, this time as oppressors. We were called to confront the anti-Blackness in us and seek justice for George while others were afraid of backlash toward the local Hmong community and others defended Tou Thao. As I watched Hmong Americans become divided over the death of another Black man by police brutality, I am reminded of the ways we are more connected than we think to people beyond the Hmong community.

Years ago a friend gave me a new word to describe one quality of the Hmong people after listening to me share about our culture. The word is “interconnected”. Interconnected is about having multiple links or connections between multiple parts. It is more complex than “connected”. It’s a word that has stuck with me and a word that I believe describes one of the most beautiful things about us. We want to know each other and how we’re related. We all probably heard someone joke about how all Hmong people are related to each other. When we meet another Hmong person, we’re prepared to answer questions about who our parents are and which city we reside in. We do this so we can find out how we are related and to honor each other by properly using the right title to address each other. Are you my aunt, uncle, cousin, nephew, or niece? 

For the younger generation who are unfamiliar with parents, we make connections differently. When I meet another Hmong person, I tend to ask where they’re from and whether they know someone I know from their hometown, church, school, clan, etc. I feel closer to someone because we have mutual friends. I work with college students and I realized one day that a student I worked with is the niece of my cousin’s wife therefore, making me her aunt. Suddenly this student wasn’t just a student that I worked with. She was family. For others, this might seem like strange behavior. Asking about family is too invasive, especially personal details like names. For us, this is normal. This is our way of hospitality and to make each other feel seen, and I think this is beautiful. 

What is beautiful is also broken. We are so interconnected to each other that it keeps us from seeing our relations to people beyond the Hmong community. With the recent events, we are not connected to it simply because one of the officers involved in the killing of George Floyd is Hmong. If that is true, then we wouldn’t have all these divisions about how to support the protests. We have gone so long taking care of our own that we fear our pain will become more invisible if we focus our attention on others. I get it and I feel that tension, but other BIPOC communities are not against us. They are with us. Our experiences are not the same, but connecting our pain with the pain of other BIPOC will help us to see that the ones who are against us are those who support white supremacy and systems of oppression. If we embody who we are as an interconnected community of people who want to be anti-racist, we should be able to look at BIPOC communities and say we understand oppression enough to wish that none of us would ever have to experience it again. We are all connected.

For my Jesus-loving Hmong Christians, our community is even more narrow. Our churches tend to be focused on members than serving the needs of the wider Hmong community. This is why I am not surprised to see Hmong American churches doing business as usual on Sunday mornings while their neighbors are hurting. This is a corporate sin we need to confess and repent. We have a long way to go to understanding the pain of other communities. Let’s do better. Confess and repent our ignorance and anti-blackness. We are capable and should do more than saying one prayer for the Black community as if this is only their problem. We are all connected.

Let’s move on from needing theology and biblical evidence to convince us to be compassionate and to hear the cries of the oppressed. If you can’t bring yourself to protest systems of oppression and racism right now, I understand. Maybe where many of us need to begin is to remember where we come from and protest to God. Cry out that our stories are not heard. Lament that after all these years we’ve lived in the U.S., we are still unknown. Weep that we only know a history of suffering. Protest to God that this is not how it should be. Once we start to lament our own story and receive healing, we could begin to see how our relations extend further than our own people. We are all more connected than we think. I’ll wait for you.

 

My Dear Readers,

Some of you may have posted a black square on IG or used #BlackOutTuesday as a show of solidarity with the Black community. This week folks also were encouraged by @JessicaWilson.msrd and @BlackAndEmbodied to #AmplifyMelanatedVoices – 

In the spirit of #AmplifyMelanatedVoices we have the honor of listening to and learning from three Christian Hmong women. If you don’t know anything about the Hmong people, LMGTFY . Remember, you don’t have to limit your learning about the Asian American diaspora to the month of May.

Who Decides When Hmong Americans Are Asian Americans? #AmplifyMelanatedVoices

My Dear Readers,

Some of you may have posted a black square on IG or used #BlackOutTuesday as a show of solidarity with the Black community. This week folks also were encouraged by @JessicaWilson.msrd and @BlackAndEmbodied to #AmplifyMelanatedVoices – 

In the spirit of #AmplifyMelanatedVoices we have the honor of listening to and learning from three Christian Hmong women. If you don’t know anything about the Hmong people, LMGTFY . Remember, you don’t have to limit your learning about the Asian American diaspora to the month of May.

Ashley Gaozong Bauer is a bi-racial, white and Hmong American Woman. Minister, Speaker, Teacher and Coffee Drinker.

I’m upset, grieving and mourning the death of George Floyd. I’ve had to lament the death and confront my own participation in this racial and systemic injustice. What am I feeling? What are other people making me feel? Why do I feel like others are telling me what my story is? Why are others appropriating our (Hmong) story to make a stance on racial injustice? I am not ashamed of either being White or Hmong. I’ve accepted the brokenness and the collective shame of both identities.

What I feel ashamed of is how Asian Americans are responding, making the face of a Hmong man the poster child of complicity in the Asian American community. I have always struggled with fully identifying as Asian American or even belonging. Only now to be fully seen by Asian Americans for this unfortunate event.

Asian Americans, East Asians, and especially Asian American Christians who have decided to emerge from the silence and exercise your voice. I’ve heard you, seen what you’ve had to say, but your voices are projecting your own “White guilt” onto the Hmong cop involved in the death of George Floyd. 

You look at one Hmong man, call him Asian, and then project your collective shame unto a people group that has never been fully received by “Asian Americans.” Complicity and model minority myth is your own collective brokenness to bear. Our (Hmong) story is not yours, and your stories are not ours. We’ve had to share in the collective shame of the model minority, but when have Asian Americans shared in the pain and suffering of the Hmong refugee narrative and threats of deportation?

I am frustrated and pained because our story is not your story; you do not get to claim it for your own benefit! Get facts straight and check yourself.

Now is the time to sit in the pain and the narratives that are not East Asian dominant. Now is the time to actually hear the Hmong American perspective during this chaos and know that labeling it as “Asian American” is painful because it’s not a homogenous identity. Our narrative is not rooted in privilege similar to East Asians. Also, learn that there are other non-East Asians as well as many refugee communities that are impacted too.

So yes, stand up for the injustice and stand up for Black lives. But own your own shame, guilt, and story. Don’t perpetuate injustice with another act of injustice by appropriating the Hmong story for your own self-righteousness or your own inaction. It is your privilege that allows you to do that. 

Use your voice and our collective identity to stand for justice but not at the expense of our multifaceted Asian American experience. Stand for black lives. Our voices are needed. Our voices have been missing. Cry out, speak out and learn. We’ve been late. 

 

 



Today Was Supposed to Be

Today was supposed to be senior prom for #Eliyasss #BabyDreamBig. He was planning on wearing the same suit he wore last year with a bow tie and socks to match his date’s dress and maybe new Vans. Maybe. Why break in a new pair when you don’t have to?

Today was supposed to be filled with a trip to the florist to pick up a lovely nosegay – a fancy word for “expensive bouquet of flowers that the date holds for photos but promptly leaves on a table at the venue.” A last-minute check to iron the shirt and make sure the tie and socks match. Lots of texts about where the photos would be taken and who was actually going to be at which after-party.

Today was supposed to be a chance for the kids to dress up like fancy adults with none of the responsibilities and a chance for the parents to see their babies on the cusp of adulthood. Fancy hair, bad spray tans, high heels they can’t walk in. Scratchy rented tuxes with equally uncomfortable rented shoes (and that is why we bought both of our sons suits for prom). For some it’s just prom. For others it’s a warm-up for a future wedding (if you know, you know). More digital photos than anyone will ever actually print of every combination of friends you can imagine and can’t imagine. AP Bio. Lunch. Coding Cats. Discord group. The boys. The girls. The nosegays that will get tossed to the side. Each couple. Those three couples. That couple with the third wheel. The group that did that thing that one year. Freshman year lunch, second semester. Sometimes reluctant photos with parents and/or siblings. And for my son and some of his friends a photo at the red doors of their elementary school. 

Today is now just like any day and by that I mean the days that are bleeding into each other with very little differentiation because four out of five of us are not essential workers. Today is cloudy, cold and rainy, which would’ve caused problems with plans for outdoor photos and some consternation for the girls and their mothers over makeup, hair, strapless dresses, and strappy sandals.

Today is just Saturday, the Saturday that would’ve been Elias’s senior prom. The night the Supper Club – our group of friends, most of whom have a senior boy “graduating” this year – would’ve sent the kids off to prom and then gathered for dinner, drinks, old and new memories. Three of the couples? We will be empty nesters. We are assuming we will be empty nesters come fall. Tonight was supposed to be a night where we talk about how we can’t believe the boys are graduating and headed off to Drake, Purdue, and the University of Illinois. Today was supposed to be a chance for the parents, for me, to collectively process this new, again, season of parenting.

I asked Elias if he  wanted to dress up in his suit and at least pose for some funny photos, even offering to take photos of him and his date socially distanced, but getting into a suit is neither funny nor fun without the community of friends to share in the moment. I get that. I’m trying to get that. I’m trying to let him decide what he wants and needs as he is the high school senior in the house while I am also trying to figure out what I’m feeling that is different than when I sent off the older two kids to their “lasts”…

I do not know how to name the grief and joy and pride of sending my youngest off to college when we are all making this up as we go along. I am trying to be grateful to have all five of us sheltering in place with a warm home and too much food while giving myself permission to be sad because it wasn’t supposed to be this way. #RunMySon is supposed to be at college stressing and enjoying the end of his junior year. #FlyMySweet is supposed to be in Brooklyn dancing and with stretch therapy and Thai bodywork clients. Peter is supposed to be with his students and patients. I am supposed to have space to be sad and remember and dream without feeling guilty for not being grateful for this unexpected family time.

I do not know how to name it right now except to say it’s ok to sit in the in between and not jump from grief to acceptance. It’s ok to be sad and not see the silver lining right now. It’s ok to wish it wasn’t this way and sit with that for a bit. It’s ok. Even if it’s not ok. It’s ok that today was supposed to be something else. 

27 Things I’ve Learned During 27 Years of Marriage

My Dear Readers,

We made it!

No, I’m not talking about making it to the end of sheltering in place. We’ll have to wait at least another month for that.

We made it to our 27th wedding anniversary, and, even though the global pandemic has been challenging for my own personal mental health, Peter and I are celebrating with our three children who have been sheltering in place with us for the past six weeks.

What have I learned? It may not be a list of 27 new things, but every year for the past few years I’ve taken some time to reflect on marriage – how the covenant, the commitment has changed me and what it continues to teach me.

Here goes:

  1. Sheltering in place makes all the small cracks really obvious. I think we were just a few days into all of this and we argued during a walk because ….
  2. It’s hard to argue authentically with all the emotion and gesturing one needs to release when you have three almost adult children under the same roof ALL DAY AND ALL NIGHT LONG.
  3. This also makes having sex very challenging and so far impossible. I think it’s been impossible. I can’t remember.
  4. Love is not blind. Romance is blind. If you believe love is blind there is this train wreck of a reality show (and really no judgment because I watched it twice and would love to talk about it with you if you want) where you can laugh out loud about losing butterflies. Love is about both partners seeing the cracks and STILL CHOOSING TO STAY.
  5. You do not need to share everything. He has his shampoo. I have my shampoo bar. He doesn’t mind plastic cups. I always drink out of a glass made of GLASS.
  6. We don’t have to share all of our interests. We are two people despite the fact that I have lived more of my life with him than without. There are some tv series, movies, books, beverages, etc. that I will just never get into. Ever. He still runs. I smile and tell him to have a good run. Sunday evenings he would go kickboxing and I would practice yoga.
  7. Sometimes we learn to love each other’s interests. We often talk about how it took me three times to enjoy Monty Python. Once I was able to stay awake I was hooked. Whenever we have to trim the shrubs we laugh. If you know, you know.
  8. Communication is key. Even after all of these years we are still learning how to communicate. I may be able to finish he sentences and thoughts more often than he can mine, but that doesn’t mean we don’t crash and burn. We do. We are learning.
  9. Over communication is key. We now have enough toilet paper to last us through the second wave of COVID19 because I didn’t tell him I had asked my sister to grab some at Costco and he didn’t tell me someone scored double-sized rolls on Amazon.
  10. It’s important have shared dreams and goals. We haven’t done much traveling as a couple, but when we eventually become empty nesters we have some dreams.
  11. It’s important to have your own dreams and goals and to support one another. More than a decade ago I wanted/needed an office where I could shut the door. As the kids grew up and started leaving home I wanted more physical space to work – write, practice yoga, read, etc. He now has my old office. I have the living room. (Although with everyone home all day every day I wouldn’t mind some doors now.)
  12. I learned Peter likes sipping tequila and mezcal. I had no idea. We have now gone from no bottles to four bottles.
  13. Missing Peter isn’t the same as being sad. This past year we both have been traveling for work (not anymore, obviously), and it was the first time I have been the one parent at home as often as he was. It was weird being the one to drop him off at the airport, and I definitely missed him but I wasn’t sad. I hope that doesn’t sound bad. I was so glad he was enjoying a new part of his job – Boston, New York, Nashville, and Antigua.
  14. Sometimes we don’t mind living into gendered stereotypes while also dismantling them. Again, a recent discovery because of COVID19 and both of us being Asian American – he does most of the grocery shopping because even if people want to be rude because they are racist they are less likely to take it out publicly on Peter because Peter is a big strong man.
  15. It’s important to say, “I love you” even when you don’t like each other in that moment.
  16. Your bad habits can become your spouse’s bad habits. I realized that slowly over the years I stopped making the bed. He never made his bed as a single man. I always made my bed. We got married. I made the bed. And then I just made my side of the bed. And then I just stopped. But since we’ve been home ALL DAY EVERY DAY I started making my side of the bed and sometimes the entire bed. Wouldn’t you know it, lately when he gets up before I do he makes his side of the bed before he goes downstairs. Amazing.
  17. Even though I can sometimes read Peter’s mind, he cannot read mine, probably because I am thinking about a bajillion things at once. And just because I tell him exactly what I want for our anniversary dinner doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me. The fact that he will order it on the way home from work and pick it up means he loves me. (I also told him exactly what I wanted for my 50th birthday. We shall see, my Dear Readers.)
  18. Sometimes when your spouse says, “I don’t have a preference.” you can take it literally.
  19. But when your spouse says, “I don’t have a preference.” you should always ask, “Are you sure? Here are some options.” just to be clear and over-communicate.
  20. Sex can still be really good and beautiful and awkward and mutually satisfying after 27 years (even if you can’t remember the last time you had sex).
  21. I’ve known this for a few years but I don’t know if I’ve written it on this annual list. My in-laws, specifically my mother-in-law, and I had a challenging relationship until her death more than a decade ago. Difficult in-law relationships strained our marriage but they were never the root cause of the strain. The ways Peter and I managed or didn’t manage that relationship with the health of our marriage as central as opposed to pleasing our parents is what exacerbated conflict.
  22. Which leads to this. Go to counseling. Everyone. Even when you’re not at your wits’ end. Especially when you’re not at your wit’s end. Get counseling before it gets really bad so it doesn’t have to get really bad.
  23. We both have been in the slow process of decolonizing our faith. I don’t know what I would’ve done if Peter hadn’t trusted me. I don’t know what our marriage would look like if he wasn’t also asking questions about his beliefs.
  24. Parenting young children AND working on your marriage is exhausting and you can’t always give both 100%. We are almost empty nesters and I don’t regret not making my children the center of my universe. They have always known they are loved. Peter and I will be sad when we drop Elias off at college (that will happen in the fall, right?) but neither of us will wonder if we have purpose left in our lives just because the kids don’t need us the same way. (I will return to this lesson over and over and over when I am sad.)
  25. Even some of the most horrible memories and moments can change shape over time. Take for example our wedding video for which we paid several hundreds of dollars and is one of the worst videos ever made for the money. We now show it freely as a way to cry laughing because it really is so bad it’s funny.
  26. We became that couple who fills their respective pill boxes every Saturday night a lot sooner than we thought.
  27. The wedding photos are more “important” that the video or the dress or the cake or the whatever, but even the photos (and the dress) are in a box upstairs collecting dust. Marriage isn’t in the memories. Marriage is in the present tense. We do. Now. Again. And again. And again. I love you, Peter.
This is 27 years of marriage in our daytime pjs.

The Price of the American Dream

She looked tired, but she put on a smile as she greeted our table, apologizing for the delay. We were a party of eight on a busy Friday night. The staff was hustling – the woman and her son.

The woman seated people, went from table to table taking orders, ran to greet carry-out customers, answered the phone to take those orders; she was the mother of the young man who filled our cups with water, cleared the tables, did what needed to be done. On a Friday night.

I found myself periodically distracted from the dinner conversations, watching the woman, watching the son.

My father has often told stories of his job a a bus boy, one of his first jobs after arriving in Chicago with a master’s degree in engineering. I waited tables in college to pay for my books and expenses. Dad talked about bringing home leftovers from the kitchen to share a late-night meal beyond their budget. I remember putting in my tithe into the offering plate – a roll of singles. Our family never owned a restaurant, but watching the mother and son serving us reminded me of my family, my parents – the sacrifices they made out of the love and the gulf between us.

My parents owned a dry cleaners. It was a drop-off – the clothes were taken to a plant where the cleaning was done and returned to our storefront on hangers. The back room where the bagging, tagging, and detail work happened was where my sister and I used lint brushes to make the clothes look as new a possible. We worked when we weren’t in school, went in on weekends when we could. In my faded memory my parents closed the store only twice in the many years they owned that business – one Saturday in 1993 for my wedding and one Saturday in 1995 for my sister’s wedding. They may have closed the store to attend our college graduations, but I don’t remember. I do remember my mom talking with customers, reminding them in the weeks leading up to my wedding that they would be closed on April 24.

My mother’s ability to chit chat in English grew exponentially during those years of handling other people’s dirty laundry. She remembered customers’ names and milestones, their preferences for dress shirts – folded or hangers, starch or no starch, and usual drop-off and pick-up times. The woman at the Chinese restaurant recognized an order from our table as a carry-out regular. One couple in our group often dine in the restaurant, and the woman had memorized their favorites. I watched her son hover to refill our water, and I thought about my sister and I in the backroom listening to our mom make small talk with the steady stream of customers. A spontaneous night out with friends at a Chinese restaurant and suddenly I can’t get my family’s dry cleaning business out of my head.

A customer once asked my mother if she hoped to pass down the family business to her daughters. I couldn’t see my mom but I could hear her polite but insincere smile as she responded, “No. I do this so my daughters will graduate from college and not have to do this.”

We did. My sister and I both graduated from college. Neither of us do the kind of manual labor my parents took on to fund our middle class lives and college education. I can’t speak for my sister, but I have often wondered and grieved over the fact that my U.S.-based college education, my fluent English and broken Korean, my penchant to think in terms of “me” as often as I do “we,” my assimilation into a culture and country where I am forever a foreigner was too costly a price. Make no mistake. I love and deeply respect my parents. They did their best. Their English is better than my Korean. They recently shared that maybe they had been too hard on me, their first-born. They didn’t know how to raise an American child. But as a 48-year-old grown ass woman, I am living the cost of the American Dream, living and breathing the distance and disappointment between us. Good enough sometimes isn’t good enough. Is that ok? Will that be enough?

I think back to the woman and her son and imagine going to the restaurant to share some words of wisdom. I thought I would have some by now.



The Last First. #eliasneedsahashtag

Tomorrow our youngest child starts school. Again. This time it’s the last first day of high school. The light at the end of the child-rearing tunnel is shining brighter and bittersweet. I’m not crying. I’m more tired but also sleepless. I’ve been on edge for the past two weeks, and it’s because tomorrow our youngest child goes to his last first day of high school.

I find myself staring at him. I can still see his baby face, but it means looking up and past the facial hair. His laugh makes my heart smile. He’s been busy enjoying the final days of summer freedom, before he and his friends head back to classes, daily reminders that college applications are due, essays need to be completed, important decisions need to be made. He planned a night of s’mores at our fire pit. He had a dozen boys over for a LAN party. He helped organize a night of playing “hostage” and I bribed them inside after curfew with pizza. “Can my friends come over and….” Yes. Yes, your friends can come over because this is the last first day.

In many ways he has always been in a hurry. Even his birth story is one of hurry. He barely waited for my doctor to show up. I didn’t have time to change into a hospital gown or sign all the papers and get admitted before he was born. There are photos of me, breathing through my contractions, braiding our oldest child’s hair with #2 at my side, and hours later I’m in the same shirt holding #3.

The build-up to the last first day snuck up on me. Getting ready for the first day of high school doesn’t involve the same rush as elementary school. In our community the kids can go to the high school to pick up their own schedules, and smart phones make sharing your schedule a matter of a few thumb movements.

There are no lists of school supplies. There are no discussions about why you don’t get a new box of crayons every year, no search for the specific brand of watercolors (Prang), no required supplies actually except for the expensive calculator to do things that don’t factor into most people’s daily lives. In our home we don’t buy new clothes for back-to-school until the old clothes don’t fit, and I still have a shelf of folders and notebooks that can be reused. July came and went and suddenly August was here. We are so ready for this day that it snuck up and surprised us.

When he started kindergarten I was the parent with a big smile ready to sing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” because it had been a long summer with a job, three kids, a husband working long hours. I was ready for his first day of kindergarten with an inappropriate level of giddiness, but he had other plans.

My sweet boy wrapped himself around my legs like a koala bear. It would take a teacher and the principal to slowly unwrap his limbs from mine and take him inside. I knew what to do and I did it. I turned around and walked away with the biggest lump in my throat and tears hot in my eyes. The eyes of less experienced mothers glared with judgment and horror as I walked away without turning back and while those of my peers looked with understanding, urging me to take a deep breath.

The principal gave him a magic penny and told him when he touched the penny it would magically signal to me to think of him. He knows now that I can’t help but think of him. As I steel myself for tomorrow I’m thinking I need that magic penny that will signal him to think of me.

26 Things I’ve Learned During 26 Years of Marriage

We are sitting next to each other at the kitchen table planning another “this might be the last time we can vacation with all three kids” vacation. He is planning it because I spent the week prior figuring out how to maximize 160,000 frequent flyer miles between five of us, one of whom does not live at home. He wanted to me to help decide between the upper canyon or the lower canyon or both. I told him I can’t make any more decisions today.

Peter and I met in November 1992 in Appleton, WI. He was recently separated from the U.S. Air Force working on getting his dental license for Wisconsin. (No, the government didn’t pay for dental school.) I was a very green newspaper reporter in Green Bay, WI. Our friends Scott and Irene (who were my college friends and went to church with Peter) introduced us thinking Peter would make a nice oppa- older brother-type person. Awkward.

We met at the mall and he ate something from Taco Bell while we talked. I had eaten at a work function. He remembers me firmly shaking his hand. I remember he was eating Taco Bell.

We had our DTR (defining the relationship talk) two weeks later and defined our relationship as headed to marriage. We were young, though I was younger, and we were in love. We were engaged on December 26, 1992 with about 100 of our family and friends in attendance for a tradition Korean engagement ceremony. We got married on April 24, 1993 with about 1,000 friends, family, and strangers to us but connected to our parents. It was an intimate gathering.

We have moved three times, each time getting us closer to the Promised Lane – the north suburbs of Chicago. We moved into this home, our second house, almost 15 years ago. Elias decided to start potty training while we were still unpacking boxes. We have yet to remodel the kitchen. Maybe goldenrod laminate countertops and linoleum floors will make a comeback.

And here we are. We often look at each other, usually as we are getting ready to go to bed, and say how incredible this all is. It is.

The list

  1. The sooner you figure out how your strengths work together the better. He paints with the roller brush. I do all of the detail work without painter’s tape.
  2. The sooner you figure out your weaknesses the better. I recommend marriage counseling before and during marriage.
  3. Maintain your own friendships, aka you don’t always have to do things as a couple. Peter and I have been really #blessed having a group of friends where the wives became friends first and then set up play dates so that our husbands would get to know each other, and now the husbands are good friends who plan their own nights out
  4. Every stage of marriage and life will impact your sex life. It’s called stress, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, those long days and short years, menopause and whatever the male version of that is, etc.
  5. Over communicate. We are still working on this. It’s not just about talking a lot. It’s about communicating details and emotions and not just the number of words.
  6. Remember what you enjoyed doing before you were married and keep doing some of those things. For years Peter was in a fall bowling league (that started in the fall and ended around our anniversary, which also was the cause of some tension because of the lack of over communication). I went to the lanes once to stop in and say hi. I like to get lost in a book, alone in silence with coffee or wine and the option to fall asleep.
  7. Learn to enjoy things the other person enjoys. Peter still doesn’t enjoy coffee. I still don’t enjoy running. I have learned to enjoy basketball, baseball, and football. He pretends to enjoy gardening with me.
  8. Learn to say you are sorry, what you are sorry for, and how you are going to change your behavior moving forward, and then change.
  9. Spend some time getting your own shit together, aka staying emotionally healthy. No money for a therapist? Read or listen to some podcasts. There is a lot of information out there to help though a therapist or counselor if you can afford it is the way to go. Peter and I would’ve fought a lot less if he had figured out why he thought his parents were perfect and why I had stayed in an abusive relationship in college. Yup. Lots of fighting.
  10. Non-sexual touch can be very important. There were years when my body was all about gestation and lactation and then the needs of small people’s bodies. A back rub with no expectation it was going to lead to sex was important.
  11. Your marriage isn’t doomed if you can’t do weekly date nights. We didn’t have the money, the time, the energy, the babysitting, etc. We felt like marriage failures, and only the last few years did we understand that was some weird unrealistic BS that didn’t fit us. And how many times can you go out to eat if you don’t have amazing ethnic food close by??
  12. Instead of date nights figure out what will work so that you can connect on a regular basis and have time to laugh, talk, enjoy each other’s company. It’s a lot easier for us now that we only have one child at home but also easy to forgo because we have unrealistic expectations for what family time will look like. Monday night was date night. We went to yoga and had a beer. PERFECT!
  13. Learn to forgive each other. I can remember many of our biggest fights, and that memory is a problem when it’s not coupled with forgiveness. Yes, there are still things I am working on forgiving.
  14. Try to stay physically healthy. If you are reading this blog you can search your heart out for all the little things you can do to stay fit with or without exercise equipment, health insurance (but boy does that help), fancy fitness watches, etc.
  15. We are both Christians so we also work on our spiritual health. Find and develop a relationships with people who share or honor your faith, faith practices and rituals, etc.
  16. You will change. I used to make the bed every day, and it would drive me nuts that Peter didn’t. (I still refold the towels every now and then.)
  17. You won’t change. My shoes are in clear plastic boxes and labeled. The shirts are organized by color and sleeve length. I don’t even look in Peter’s closet any more.
  18. Money doesn’t buy you love, but that security doesn’t hurt. When you can’t pay the bills the stress can be overwhelming, and it strains even the strongest marriages. Don’t pretend money doesn’t matter. It isn’t everything, but it isn’t completely irrelevant.
  19. Problems and strengths in the marriage can spill into parenting. Becoming parents doesn’t fix your marriage. It amplifies the strengths and weaknesses in your relationship.
  20. Learn to celebrate each other in ways that are meaningful for the other person.
  21. Have sex. When you have kids you may have to plan for it or make it super quick. If you don’t have kids already just make it a habit to sleep with your door closed and maybe even locked so that when you do have kids and they get older everyone is used to having to knock. Teenagers sleep weird hours so there’s that, too.
  22. If you don’t enjoy or want sex or it becomes painful, talk to your spouse and maybe a doctor. Seriously. It’s not about procreating. Sex is meant to be fun and enjoyable, not that scary evangelical/fundamentalist stuff Peter and I grew up with. (I should probably write more about menopause. Yay.) If you’re both ok not having sex, carry on.
  23. Sometime you go to bed angry or annoyed but don’t be passive aggressive about it. Figure out when you’re going to pick up the fight/disagreement/conflict, but for goodness sake SLEEP. Most fights aren’t resolved by staying up all night. We’ve tried.
  24. Say “I love you” in as many different ways as often as you can. Variations include “I trust you,” “I am for you,” and ” I believe in you.” I love it when Peter takes my car and fills up the tank. Peter loves it when I make Elias take out the garbage. He knows my current favorite red wine. I buy him his special fancy pants chocolate bar.
  25. Make room for each other’s dreams, failures, growth, doubt, and changes. It isn’t perfect. It may not even come close to the plan, but talk about the crazy dreams and maybe you will find or make some space. I am an author and a yoga teacher. Those were some crazy dreams.
  26. Don’t just look back and remember what made you fall in love or what you loved about your spouse when you first met. Gratitude is a discipline and a daily practice. If I’m lucky I’ll get to write another list next year, but for now I am so grateful that despite being groggy and tired and probably running a little late, Peter will wake up and wash the dirty pots and pans in the sink.

Happy 26th anniversary to us, Peter. I love us!

I’m Sorry: A Story

A screenshot of the email I received April 15, 2019.

My Dear Readers,

Many of you have reached out over the past two months with words of encouragement, prayers, funny memes, and lovely tangible gifts of wine, chocolate, sheet masks, and pottery. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

There wasn’t much to update you with until last week, and I’ve been trying to decide and discern what to write about the apology I received. I know I should be grateful and gracious but to be brutally honest I am tired. It took two months for the institutional wheels of a Christian university to issue an apology that is worded in the first person, carefully avoiding institutional culpability but acknowledging some proximity to the situation.

In other words, the apology is a first step and because this involved an institution it took more than a heart-to-heart “do you hear what I’m saying” conversation. Allies and advocates inside the institution worked hard to get the administration’s attention, and I am deeply grateful for the students, staff, and faculty who contacted various administrators to let them know that they/we were waiting and watching to see how a Christian institution would respond.

A timeline

February 18 – I preach/speak/talk at Baylor chapel, by invitation. Chapel is a required class and runs back for three class periods. That morning, after the first chapel, I posted a vague book request for prayer on my author FB page because a student interrupted me as I was wrapping up my time, unnerving me for a split second as I tried to figure out what to do. The student objected my example of an 11-year-old arrested for refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance. You can do your own Google search and see how headlines covered this story, etc. A university administrator asked me to consider rephrasing my description of the news story despite the fact that multiple news outlets connect the arrest to the child’s refusal to stand for the pledge. I removed the example all together because it’s clear the administrator wasn’t comfortable with the example, and I don’t want to worry about students interrupting me. My focus is on calming down for the next two chapel services. Chapel staff told me crisis protocols were in place and that someone had considered removing me from the stage, the student had been removed quickly from the auditorium, and that I was not the only adult in the room who was concerned that the situation could’ve escalated.

February 25 – I write and publish my blog post with little to no public reaction from Baylor students, parents of students, alumni, etc. No one from the university follows up with me, despite having acknowledged that other university employees also had made split second decisions and were ready to remove me from stage, etc.

When I wrote this post about what had happened to me in February I did not name the university or the student involved. The blog post wasn’t about a single incident but how that one incident, which I do describe, got me thinking about safety, risks, etc.

March 4 – A university-recognized student organization publicly posts a YouTube video where the young man who interrupted my chapel talk names me and challenges me and the university to respond. Now it’s not just about me thinking about safety (and the university’s failure to follow-up with me about what happened during chapel). It’s about the university in a far more public way because a Baylor student organization decided to make it about me against them and Baylor and invited supporters to raise their voice. Very clever. (Next time, dear young conservatives, please learn how to pronounce my name and cite my book correctly.)

Comments on my original blog post and on my Twitter feed get, um, interesting and are an example of the pros and cons of communication in the 21st century – anonymity, gaslighting, gentleness, openness, name-calling, humility, etc. (Note: I have since closed the comments on that post. My blog, my rules.)

March 7 – The Baylor Lariat publishes a letter to the editor from the Coalition of Asian Students asking the university to respond to the February 18 incident and publishes an article about the video and interviews the student who interrupted me.

March 8 – A university administrator emails me for the first time. Staff, faculty, and students reach out to my privately. Comments on my blog continue, along with tweets and subtweets. My favorites include Christian students and parents of students calling me a racist, coward, and false prophet. For the record, I have never claimed to be a prophet, I am afraid when people get very close to threatening me, and reverse racism isn’t a thing no matter how many times people try to make it a thing.

While some commenters refer to chapel speakers being more liberal than what they would prefer at a Christian university, no one I have talked to at the university can name another speaker who has been dragged on social media or interrupted. Commenters would call it keeping me accountable.

April 2 – I have a one-hour call with Driskell, two other university administrators, and a faculty of color.

April 15 – Robyn Driskell emails me with an apology.

A reflection

Just because an organization or institution is lead by Christians or calls itself Christian doesn’t mean the systems and structures reflect and act with those values. Many of us have seen this in our churches, and close friends of mine have brought to light similar institutional and leadership failures in Christian publishing and conferencing.

Sometimes the failures are blatantly racist and other times they are “racially charged” which is a longer way of saying racist. Sometimes the apology and “fix” don’t ever come, not in a way that actually brings about learning and restoration. Sometimes an apology comes a decade later, but it can’t undo the damage nor are tangible steps taken to ensure those same mistakes won’t happen again.

In the past I have offered suggestions, ideas, and feedback only to find that nothing will change. Having the conversation and listening is mistaken for repentance and change.

Not this time

This time I refused to offer those suggestions and resources as a free will offering.

If an institution like Baylor wants its administrators, faculty and staff to grow in cross-cultural communication and is committed to learning how to better host diverse speakers and prepare the Baylor community to not only tolerate but welcome and learn from and with those speakers, Baylor can do more than issue an apology. It can invest in diversity and inclusion training at all levels (think Revelation 7:9-10 and no, not everyone is crying out in English), communicate institutional failures and lessons learned to its internal and external constituency, and because it is an institution of higher education it can decide on learning outcomes and design programs around those goals.

This is my blog, but the ending to this story isn’t mine to write. I accept the apology but if Baylor has truly learned valuable lessons from this experience, as Driskell writes in her apology, we will have to wait to see what changes come as a result. The Coalition of Asian students has a few ideas I bet, and to those students I say #sicem.

Parenting in Paris

She has always used my body to support hers. Here I am, her footstool.

There was a time when I knew everything about my children. I knew their due dates before they were born, remembered their birth weights and lengths. Two were born in the morning. One arrived at 12:02 pm just to be special. I knew what they ate, when they ate it, which side they had last nursed, when their diaper had last been changed.

Do you remember the fear and shock when the hospital just sent you home with your newborn? We did it three times and couldn’t believe no one asked any real questions except about a car seat and then double-checked the hospital security bands, which we thought was funny because our kids are all Cheeseheads (born in Wisconsin) so they were the only Asian babies – a full head of dark hair that caused nurses and doctor to gasp each time.

So 8,451 long days that were also 23 short years later my daughter and I traveled through Paris and Iceland in what felt like a dream and master class in parenting a young adult child.

Some things never change

We shared a bed through the entire trip, and I couldn’t help but listen to her breathing settle into sleep, watch her move around until she relaxed. She was the same. The infant, baby, toddler, preschooler, little girl, pre-teen, teenager and now young woman all wrapped up in one – still sleeping deeply enough to have once slept through a microburst that tore through our neighborhood. My instinct to cover her and brush her hair away from her face remained.

But so did her instinct to brush away my hand and look at me ever so briefly with a mix of annoyance and familiarity. I want to push away anything and everything, even if it’s a wayward cowlick, to make her way easier, more open, better, and her instinct is to push for autonomy and discern her own preferences. It is her journey and story she will perhaps one day tell but of which I am a beneficiary of. After all, her learning to push away is what got us to Paris. She had been planning her own trip to Europe when she asked me if I would join her in Paris.

Parenting a young adult means knowing when to push even if it means getting that look and when to wait for that invitation to join in. It’s so much less about the kind of directing I did as the parent of a young child. We were the parents who didn’t ask where our children wanted to eat. They ate where we ate. We didn’t ask them where they wanted to go on vacation. They went where we took them. We involve them much more now because our children are older with preferences, limitations, interests that are more defined, but it’s still so hard to figure out where that line is and how to draw it. But being in Paris with our daughter I knew that these were lines she had drawn to include me as both mother and guest and what an honor and privilege that was.

Some things have to change

I love my own mother very much, but our relationship is different from that of mine with my own daughter. My mother and I still have language and cultural barriers, while my daughter and I have the advantage of having both grown up in the Midwest. I could never quite get my parents to understand the concept of school dances, and I’m still trying to explain to them what a prom-posal is. (Can someone tell me why this is a thing???) The impact of assimilation is palpable in my parenting. My daughter was my Snapchat tutor and helped me find a great deal on my flight to Paris with a different search engine. In my parents’ generation and culture of parenting the parent is always the parent, the advice-giver.

My daughter has spaces where she is the expert, the lead, and it was exhilarating, freeing, and unnerving to live it out in Paris. She had spent part of a summer in Paris as a student so she had a sense of the city, the subway, the places she wanted to revisit. She had a plan, and she asked me about my preferences and expectations. More often than not she was the one leading the way through the streets and subway transfers. It was disorienting enough to be in a foreign city, but to see my daughter as the one leading the way was beautiful. Mothers of little ones, hang on. The babies grow up into grown adults who will forever be your babies. Your babies change and have opinions and questions, preferences (thank goodness we both love baguettes, cheese, and red wine) that you cannot dictate. The time is coming. It’s amazing.

It’s also scary. I’m sure none of my Dear Readers have control issues when it comes to parenting, but I do. I thought it would be easy to let go my tendency to pick up after my child when she was 23 but when you’re sharing a small space that messy suitcase spilling out over the floor is as annoying as the messy bedroom at home she will never sleep in permanently ever again. I thought I would know how to read the silence in our time together as intuitively as I learned to interpret her cries. Just kidding. I never could tell the difference between her hungry cry and her diaper cry.

But the chatterbox toddler who asked a million questions doesn’t always grow up to be the extrovert. Instead of wishing the questions would stop, I’m learning how to ask questions after I decide what it is I really want to know and understand about her young adult life.

It’s not easier. It’s different.

A wise older friend once told me, when I was in the thick of diapers and sippy cups, that parenting never gets easier. It just changes.

I felt that intensely as we tried to strike a good balance between being tourists and simply enjoying being in Paris. There were moments vaguely similar to those long days as I wondered if her silence was simply exhaustion, a need for introvert time, frustration with me, or hangriness. And then I had to remember that being the parent of a young adult means your child now has the vocabulary and capacity to answer questions. To be an adult. “I’m not ready for a meal, but I could use a snack. Do you want to keep exploring or join me for a snack?” “I’m fine staying here for another hour or so. Would you like to go ahead to the apartment?” Those were questions we asked each other. Mother to daughter. Daughter to mother.

And then came the goodbye. Somehow nine days that looked like more than enough time to spend together in Paris and Iceland snuck up on us, just like the long days sneak up into years that vaporize. The first day of school is both the best and worst day of the year for me as a mom who has had the privilege of working from a home office. The silence in the home after a long summer of a never-ending revolving door of children and their friends and their toys, electronics (my youngest son’s friends are known to bring their gaming PCs over for a night of gaming), socks, hoodies, keys, cars, drama, and heartbreak is both welcomed and lonely.

But when your child no longer lives at home, no longer has clothes in her bedroom dresser or closet the goodbye doesn’t get easier. It changes. I thought saying a mutual goodbye at the airport, where we were both headed to our respective homes would be fine.

It wasn’t easier. The tears welled up, and I took a deep breath. We both took a deep breath and said goodbye.

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