Our Christmas Stories

It’s December 3, and it’s 61 degrees in the northern burbs of Chicago. I have the urge to empty the compost bin and start planting carrot seeds and dreaming about tomatoes. But it’s December. Surely the ground will eventually freeze, and everything that triggers my seasonal allergies will die. Right?

It doesn’t “feel” like Christmas. I grew up in Chicagoland, which means it should be cold. Freezing cold. I should be able to use my walk-in freezer – my garage. I should be able to see my breath in the air, and I should be wearing my winter coat, mittens, hat and scarf. I feel like I’m in SoCal, my fake Uggs daring my feet to combine spring and winter into one.

Instead, we spent last night summoning all of our Christmas anticipation and decorated our Christmas tree. Through the years, Peter and I have tried to build in some traditions into our Christmas as part of our family’s story – the things, the smells, the tastes that will last beyond the five of us decorating a tree. Our ornaments have become one of my favorite parts.

The fake tree was fully decorated when Peter and I bought it from Menards. I didn’t come with a box but it came loaded with lights, glass globe ornaments and other sparkly, shiny things. As the years have passed, some faster than others, fewer glass globes make their way onto the tree, replaced by preschool creations, school photos placed into frames, ornaments based on family members’ favorite things, and now two mini trees with ornaments collected from places we have visited as a family.

We will hear and probably say over and over how commercialized this sacred season has become, and it’s true. When Christmas music and decorations of red and green get up in Halloween’s orange and black, and Black Friday takes over Thanksgiving night, it’s enough to do….what?

I’m certain my oldest’s journey towards college is making this mommy a bit sentimental, but it was a sight to see when each child (including me and Peter) unpacked each ornament and shared a sentence or two about their fondest memories and helped piece together our Christmas story.

For me, the tradition I most remember is going to church Christmas Eve where the Korean Santa came to give each kid a gift based on Sunday School class. We would head home late in the night, my parents transferring us from the car to our rooms. And then we would wake up to presents that the Korean Santa would leave under our tree. I remember the just-my-size African American Barbie. The Barbie Dream House and furniture. The flannel sheets.

Our kids don’t remember seeing a Korean Santa, but they did. Instead, I hope they will remember the bits and pieces of memory each ornament carries, because, as I tell them every year, when they move out and have a place of their own and a tree of their own my housewarming gift will be “their” ornaments wrapped with the love and expectation only a savior can bring to cover their trees and lives (“…while my tree stands all naked and lonely,” I tell them each year).

What traditions have you continued from your childhood or built new into your family?

Pro-life, Tea Party & Other Dinner Conversations With the Kids

Dear Readers,

How do you talk with your children or the children in your lives about politics? Or do you talk with your children about politics?

Honestly, it wasn’t an aspect of parenting I had thought much about until ‘becoming an American’. Personal opinions are one thing, and I have plenty of opinions. Engaging in conversations with friends, neighbors, church members, etc. have been enlightening, challenging, frustrating, and important. But as my children are growing up in an amped-up informational age and in a community where classmates come dressed up as political figures (I’m not joking. Four years ago there was a mini John McCain with mom dressed up as Sarah Palin.) or have parents running for local office, we are finding the need to address politics.

My two boys get an hour of screen time a night, with exceptions made because of the ink in my veins. I am a news junky, and this election season offers me a new outlet and responsibility. As a fairly recent naturalized citizen, this will be the first time I cast a vote in a presidential election. So the television has been on more often this fall. And the newspaper (an actual ink & paper newspaper) and news magazines linger a little longer.

Which has meant my kids are asking more questions, and dinner conversations are getting interesting. And difficult.

Tonight the 13 y.o. son parroted back a political ad that has been getting quite a bit of airplay out here: So and so candidate is pro-life without exception and has sided with the Tea Party.

“What does that mean? Pro-life without exception? And what is the Tea Party?’ he asked.

Peter and I did what I think was the best we could do. We answered the question (with thought bubbles in italics) and waited for C to ask for further explanation (which he didn’t):

Us: Pro-life in politics often focuses on abortion rights, but we also want you to think about the death penalty. (But I’m also thinking that if it’s really just about abortion it should be pro-abortion/anti-abortion.)

‘Without exception’ can mean a few things, but again in this political race it is addressing abortion in the case of rape. (Or for some the issue is really ‘legitimate rape’ and whether or not a woman can get pregnant as a result of a ‘legitimate rape’.)

The Tea Party is a group of folks who have common convictions about the role of the American government and were generally unhappy with how the Republican party addressed some of those issues. (Some of the Tea Party’s rhetoric scares me, and as a family of Asian Americans we should all be afraid. Can you pass the salt?)

There are still many political ads left to go before election day, and I am certain that our dinner conversations will circle back to politics in the next few days. So when the conversation circles around to politics, do you try to stay non-partisan? Do you engage? Any advice?

They’re not racist. They just don’t know.

My sons, ages 13 and 10, spend two evenings each week on a golf course because I parent out of my own personal brokenness, which includes an acute awareness of life experiences and skills I was not exposed to growing up. Tennis lessons. Skiing lessons. Swimming lessons. Golf lessons.

Check. Check. Check. Check. (My daughter got the first three. She escaped golf because she has immersed herself into the world of dance for the past few years though it’s not completely out of the picture yet.)

One of my goals has been to expose my children to things I didn’t do and at one point or another felt like I had missed out on. This all despite the fact that I also wrestle with my own personal prejudices against sports like tennis and golf because they have in one way or another represented privilege and access to opportunities and networks my parents and I did not have.

So it did not surprise me to see a very diverse group of participants on our first day at the course – diverse meaning White or Caucasian children were in the minority. Golf, whether you are in business or in medicine, more if you are male but increasingly so if you are female, is one of those “life skills” that also translates into opportunities and networks that non-White communities continue to learn about and enter into.

(And wouldn’t you know that in the crowd of parents one of the other Asian American parents and I recognized each other after having last met about seven years ago!)

But I was a bit annoyed when I found out my sons were asked the following question by a young Black boy on the putting green:

“Are you guys related to Bruce Lee?”

My sons know me, and they have had their many questions about race, ethnicity and culture answered even when they didn’t know there was a question to be asked. They have been encouraged to recognize and value both similarities and differences. So C quickly qualified the young boy’s question with his own response:

“Mom, don’t worry. He wasn’t being racist. He just didn’t know. Bruce Lee isn’t even Korean, right?”

C was correct. Bruce Lee isn’t Korean, and the question wasn’t racist. The young boy didn’t know, and because of what he has and hasn’t learned and been exposed to about Asian Americans through school, community, church, media or family, he tried to make a connection between what he knew (Bruce Lee) and what he was currently experiencing (two Asian American boys). The boy was doing what anyone trying to make small talk might do when you are young or older and trying to make a new friend – find common ground. It wasn’t racist. The boy isn’t a racist. He just didn’t know.

But as I have sat and walked around the course for the past few weeks I’ve been wondering at what point do we move from not knowing to being responsible for what we don’t know. I have been the receiver of much grace and the giver of the same as people of different races/ethnicities/gender/faith find themselves making mistakes as well as being stupid, prejudiced and racist. I have found extending grace easier when the offender acknowledges the offense. It really becomes extending grace when the offender sees no offense.

So I’m still mulling over C’s response to an innocent question that on another day would have made my tired blood boil had I been the one being asked about my relationship to say Lucy Liu, but was tempered and amazed by C’s response, which was to simply tell the boy he wasn’t related to Bruce Lee.

And then they proceeded to sink a few golf balls.

Fly On the Wall: Things You’d Hear in My House

In honor of Tom Lin’s (vp, director of Urbana, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and unrelated to basketball’s Jeremy Lin, though all three of us have ties to InterVarsity and also are Asian American) FB status, I thought I’d get off my soapbox for awhile and lighten up the mood.

Things you would hear coming out of my mouth if you were a fly on the wall at my house:

  1. You will be walking to school today because your legs work and I’m paying good money to live this close to the school.
  2. How is it that your legs work for dancing but not for walking?
  3. Did anyone see my coffee?
  4. If I knew where you left your iPod do you think I would tell you where it is?
  5. No, I do not have your allowance yet.
  6. If you don’t want to (fill in the blank with a household chore) then please pool your allowances together so that I can get a cleaning lady. No? OK. Let’s get back to work.
  7. Wait. Let me see the problem. I can’t do math in my head.
  8. Please chew and swallow before talking again.
  9. My keys are in my purse.
  10. I love you.

What would I hear if I was a fly on the wall in your house?

 

 

 

On the Doorframes (or Walls) of My House

Life rarely goes exactly as planned, which should serve as a reminder to me to ease up on the type-A tendencies. But I am a slow learner. The following post is actually a devotional I wrote recently for a contest. I didn’t win a chance at publication, but who needs to be published in a devotional when there are blogs! 😉

Here are some reflections on Deuteronomy 6:6-9

These are the commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates. (TNIV)

There have been too many days where being a mom has felt like being the “bad cop” – a litany of “don’t do this” and “don’t do that”. Deep down inside I know rules are meant to provide healthy and sometimes godly boundaries so my children can experience the freedom of being loved unconditionally.

One rule in our house was you write (and draw) on paper. No stones. No floors. No walls. Love God by keeping your artistic creations limited to chalk on the driveway and crayons on paper.

But you can’t keep budding artists from exploring new media. It couldn’t have been more than a few moments, not even long enough for a load of laundry to be started, when the giggles went silent.

My son installed his new art directly onto the walls.

“Oh my God, Corban, what did you do?” Instantly I broke two of the commandments.

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God…”

Suddenly Sunday School seemed so very far away from my heart and from the example I was setting for my children. Teaching them to live godly lives meant I needed to be reminded about priorities.

White walls were not the priority. My house was a place God had provided to live our lives together, and my actions within the walls – the words I spoke, the love I expressed, the discipline I administered – were the ways my children would learn to love God. Not the walls.

I talked to Corban, my budding preschool artist, about his drawing and inspiration. And then we left the scribbles on the walls as a reminder to me.

“Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.”

Or in my case it would be the walls of our home.

Geishas, Wampanoag Indians and Rasta Hats With Dreadlocks. Why?

Would you let your teenaged daughter dance around dressed up like a geisha?

Or would you, as an adult, show up at a pilgrim feast dressed up in a generic Halloween “Indian” costume and let your “interpreter” speak stilted English to help portray a version of the first Thanksgiving feast?

Or would you be OK with your kid putting on a rasta hat complete with dreadlocks and say, “Give me all your money!” in an attempt to win a goofy group ice breaker?

These are the things Peter and I are discussing tonight as we have no stake in any of the amazing football games that were played earlier today. These are the things that keep me up at night because these are our realities as parents who are trying to raise three children in what some describe as a “post-racial” world.

Last week I saw a high school poms squad compete with all of their heart and dance skills dressed up like geishas. I snapped a photo, which I promptly posted on FB, and I sat there shaking my head. Their final pose was “hands meet at your heart in prayer” and bow. I expected a gong. They weren’t honoring the artistic skills and training of the geisha. They were demonstrating their modern dance team skills while perpetuating stereotypes and cultural appropriation.

But it wasn’t my daughter’s squad at the high school where my taxes go so what does it matter, right? Let it go, I tell myself. But I can’t. Or, I don’t think I should.

It made me think of our elementary school’s traditional pilgrim feast. I sat through two of those cringing at the construction paper feathered headbands the children had made for us parents, wishing I had the courage to say something appropriate after having experienced the first one, extending the benefit of the doubt and then having an even worse experience the second time. The man dressed up as the Wampanoag chief Massasoit wasn’t dressed as a Wampanoag chief. He was wearing a very nice Halloween costume. But I didn’t know what to say. I know it’s hard to believe I didn’t walk myself into the principal’s office two years ago, but it’s true. I don’t always know what or how to say things, especially when it’s clear this tradition was very, very old.

Let it go, I tell myself. Don’t ruin the tradition. But I’m having a tough time sitting here with myself.

And then Peter comes home after a fairly good weekend away at a retreat with our second child when he shares about an incident. The kids were asked to create commercials to promote their candidate (playing off this exciting election season), and one child put on a rasta hat with fake dreads and yelled out, “Give me all your money!” It was just enough to make Peter wince and talk to me about it at home…and show me the photo that he snapped.

Let it go, I tell myself. But maybe Peter and I shouldn’t.

Surely we aren’t the only ones who have seen things like this in our children’s schools and surrounding communities. What have you seen that made you uncomfortable, left you baffled, or made you angry?

What did you do or say?

Or, did you

just

let

it

go

?

 

That’s Not Fair! Too Bad, Kid. Chores Aren’t Meant to be Fair.

There are so many my children will quickly deem “unfair”. Sometimes the distribution of chores appears to be unequal, which they cry foul. Sometimes someone gets the last ice cream sandwich, which elicits similar cries. My response is a finessed version of “Life is not fair. My job isn’t to make life fair for you. It’s to give you tools to learn to deal with unfairness and to live lives that can help right the wrongs not just for yourself but for everyone.”

Usually it’s just: “Too bad. Life isn’t fair.”

But with summer vacation on hand (can someone explain to me why we can’t have year-round school?!?!?) there is more time at home, which means more opportunities to point out the inequities in life….such as chores.

I grew up with an understanding that “we” were responsible for keeping things orderly and clean. “We” mean the four of us – mom, dad, me and my sister. Rooms were clean. Shelves were dusted. Dishes put away. We weren’t perfect, but chores were just part of life, which is what I’m striving for.

There are many days when I wish I had a cleaning genie who would come weekly or bi-weekly to do what I hate doing – the bathrooms. Truth be told there are other things that I don’t want to give up that would allow me the luxury of hiring help. I don’t want to give up my gym membership, haircuts, etc.

And, I don’t want my kids missing out on important life lessons like learning to clean a bathroom or mowing the lawn. This is not a condemnation of those who have household help AT ALL! But I need all of the help I can get, and I am finding that chores is one of those things in the parenting tool kit that I don’t necessarily enjoy but can be very helpful. If chores are the most unfair things my kids experience in their young lives then they are still way ahead of the curve.

I’m trying to explain that in the best way possible, to tell them and show them and help them understand that they are blessed in different ways than most children of this world. They are not “better off” necessarily but they certainly have the material things. I’m afraid, I have been far more diligent in creating patterns and routines when it comes to the kids’ chores than I have in building in spiritual disciplines, which in the long run will help them wrestle with issues of injustice.

Everyone knows that every Saturday morning there will be a flurry of cleaning bathrooms and refreshing towels and linens, but I am realizing as my kids are getting older that the value for fairness and justice will have to come from a much deeper place and more intentional place than clean bathrooms. Right?

So help a mother out. Be the village it takes to help me and one another because someday my kids will grow up and may be in your path. What “chores” are your children responsible for and how have you built that into their value system versus their to-do list? What spiritual disciplines have you built in to their lives and how has that changed them and you?

And, what chore would you avoid all together if you could? 😉

 

 

 

Panthera Tigris Mother

Yesterday was a banner day for me. One of my sons feigned illness because he had not prepared for a test, and I (along with the full support of my husband) forced him out of his bed and eventually back to school.

“You are not sick. You are tired. Being a student is your job, and you are responsible for completing your work whether or not you are tired. Please do not complain to me about being tired when you disobey me at bedtime and do not get to sleep when you should.

You are going back to school, and you have two choices. You can go to school in your pajamas, or you can get dressed before you go. Staying home is not a choice you get to make.”

Yup. That was me. Feel free to use the speech in your own home.

And then later in the evening the same son and I spent time going over some music for a band lesson. Please note that he asked me for help. We sat there, and I corrected his posture before we went over cut time versus common time, grace notes and posture. We went over and over and over the lines of music, and I became the human metronome – clapping, snapping, humming, tapping. I pushed him despite seeing his eyes start to tear up because I KNEW HE COULD DO IT. And he did. So there. I was exhausted and then after a few hours exhilarated, with a touch of guilt because I could’ve (should’ve?) changed my tone a teeny, tiny bit and smiled a little more so I wouldn’t look so strong and scary.

But he did get that short piece in cut time, and he did get that piece in 6/8 time.

But this afternoon, he is back where he should be (at school and then at track practice, which my husband and I forced him to participate in) and I am taking a break from reading the overall program director manual for InterVarsity’s Chapter Focus Week at Cedar Campus/Timberwolf. It’s interesting reading if you are getting ready to welcome college students to a week of leadership and Bible training and have very little first-hand knowledge of the administration that goes into the week before the actual week.

But even the best manuals need to be taken in slowly, with feeling, and right now what I am feeling is the need to dialogue and discuss.

Back in January when Amy Chua, the Wall Street Journal and everyone else with a tiny piece of the internet platform jumped into the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother debate, few of us had actually read the book. We read the excerpt and commentary, wondered aloud about the mental stability of mother and children, wrote about success and achievement, compared Western to Chinese/Asian/immigrant parenting, and I put my name on the waiting list at the library.

My number finally came up, and now I want to know if any of you read the book. What did you like about the book? How did Chua’s story make you think about your parenting style or that of your parents? What made you read the book, and was it worth your time? If your children are older, do you have any regrets about not pushing or pushing your children academically, musically, spiritually, etc.?

If you, my dear readers, jump in, I will follow. I promise. Rawr.

Working Mothers: You Are Not Crazy

*Note: I wrote this a few days ago, and then I hesitated to publish this because it seemed whiny. Well, it is. Sort of. It’s my whiny and I’ll hit “publish” if I dare to.

All mothers (and fathers) work, and it is hard, rewarding, amazing, humbling work.

But this is for those of us mothers who also have a job outside of the home.

Am I crazy? I’m not trying to be superwoman, right? We aren’t crazy. Today is just one of those days. Please, someone out there tell me  you know what I’m talking about.

In the past few weeks I have spent a few extra hours talking, laughing, crying and raising my fist in solidarity with other working moms who are scheduling meetings around nursing schedules and feedings and school pick-up and drop-off times while I was juggling a sick kid at home during a home office day and conference calls.

Just this morning, both my boys claimed illness before I had had a chance to make myself a cup of coffee. My husband had to go into the office by a certain time and since my office is downstairs I got the delightful job of trying to gently cajole and then outright threaten them with cancelled play dates to get out of bed.

Boys 2, Mom 0.

Maybe they really are sick?

I try not to get angry at my husband as he leaves. I know he worries about the boys, and he feels bad that I have to stay home and reschedule meetings and phone calls, write deep and moving blogposts, close the books on a training seminar day, finish some work-related reading on leadership and diversity while tending to two boys who will spend the rest of the day complaining about being bored because the fever never materialized. And in the midst of that I can’t get past the crumbs all over the counters and table and floors, but I will manage to get past the clean laundry sitting in a pile on the couch.

I’ll just move it when I need to collapse later.

I try not to get angry that when he comes home he gets to “help” me, which I know he doesn’t mean it  in that way but when I’m tired and cranky (for those of you with young children, you will still have tired and cranky moments with teenagers because by then you are older and have a lower threshold) I can’t stand the fact that he gets to “help” me as if the expectation is that it’s all my job – the kids, the home, the job outside of the home – and he gets to help.

I remember a few times having to listen to both men and women marvel at how Peter managed at home with the baby and then the two kids and now three kids while I traveled. One person even used the term “babysitting”.

Babysitting?

Fathers do not babysit their own children!

And while I do have fun on my business trips (if you love what you do and respect and enjoy the company of the people you work with and for work can be fun), it’s still work.

I try not to get angry, because we both have chosen this lifestyle and agreed that for the time being I will bring in some bacon and fry it up in a pan even though as a woman I need to work 23% more to earn at the same rate as my husband. I try not to get angry, but I certainly have moments where I feel crazy. Today is just one of those days.

And to top it off, I gave up nail polish and candy for Lent…

Gotta go. The little guy is hungry.

A Mission for Moms Free For the Courageous (and 1 book if you are game)

UPDATE: Thanks to my readers who commented, tweeted and linked this post. Thanks to a handy, dandy random number generator “Between Worlds” has won a copy of  “The Missional Mom” by Helen Lee.

Things I learned in adulthood but didn’t expect to learn:

  • Pimples do not stop just because wrinkles move in.
  • Peer pressure does not disappear just because you leave high school.
  • Becoming who you were meant to be can be just as difficult as an adult as it was as a teenager.
  • You don’t lose yourself when you become a mom, even if there are moments like you might just drown.

That last lesson is an ongoing one (I suppose all of them all if I were to be honest). There are shelves of books to remind us that parenting, and specifically motherhood, is THE most important job a mother could have. It comes with or without Christian-ese about blessing, calling, heart and spirit. We talk about guiding and nurturing the future leaders of the world. We read about the studies of how a mother’s time working outside of the home can be damaging, be linked to childhood obesity, contribute to childhood delinquency and the general moral failure of the world.

So here in America, and even in the American Christian church, it’s easy to believe that being there for our children is a mother’s highest calling.

But is it?

“The calling and mission God has for us remains unchanged once we become wives and mothers.

What I have seen time and time again, in my friends’ lives, in my own life, and the lives of countless others reflected in the Christian and secular media, is that we mothers often forget how motherhood intersects with the bigger picture of our primary calling and mission. Sometimes we replace our primary calling and mission by saying, ‘ Motherhood is my highest calling…'” The Missional Mom, Helen Lee

Our primary calling, whether or not we are mothers, is to be Christ-followers who love others knowing and living in the knowledge we are loved by God and to be His witnesses everywhere we are. Motherhood is just one context in which that primary calling can be lived through.

Which is why reading Helen Lee’s book was a relief. It challenged me, encouraged me and unsettled me in all of the good ways we need to be. Telling myself that my life is good because someone else’s life isn’t as good doesn’t compel or inspire me to reconsider my choices, but reading stories of women – mothers who love their children and want not just the easiest or nicest or best for their children but want was God wants for them – inspired me.

It inspired me to look past the boxes of photos screaming to be organized or framed or scrapbooked, to look past the various piles of artwork, homework and plain old work, to look at my family’s schedule and to ask God for wisdom to make the choices that actually align with the values I hold as a Christ-follower and not as a supermom.

Worldly martydom is easier than the daily dying to yourself that Christ calls us to. It really is easier to pore myself into being the best mother and lose sight of who God intended me to be and become in the context of my many circles of influence. It’s easier for me to be busy making sure my kids are happy than to take the time to direct myself and my family into joy and a spirit-filled life. Kodak moments are easier than a Christ-filled life.

So when you, friendly blog reader, find yourself in a quiet moment when you are wondering where you lost yourself choose the better thing and dare to ask God what might need to change in your life.

I have a copy of The Missional Mom courtesy of (and signed by) Helen to give away to one of you! How do you get a chance to win a copy of the book?

  • Post a link to this blogpost on your FB or blog for a chance;
  • Tweet a link to this post for another chance;
  • Leave a comment on this post. Ideas for comments: Why do you want this book? How has becoming a mother been challenging to you? Have you ever felt like you “lost” yourself after becoming a wife, or a mother (or a husband or father) and what was that like? If you’re not a mother, what are you most afraid of as you consider the possibility of becoming a mother?