Picking Favorites: My Daughter or My Sons

What would you say if I told you that I loved my daughter more than my sons? Or that I loved my sons more than my daughter? Or if I loved my children more than my husband? Or that I loved my husband more than I did my children?

Well, apparently that is essentially what one blogger did, and she’s getting some heat for her post. She writes about loving her son more than her daughter and the difficulties she had bonding with her daughter, who is also her firstborn. And she responds to some really, really mean comments explaining that her post was more about her deepest darkest fears more than a day-to-day intentional favoritism.

But my first reading struck a nerve for various reasons, and I hope it did for you too. Writing about your deepest darkest fears publicly means you better be ready to take what comes at you, and the author pulled the blogpost and then wrote an update clarifying her first post. The blogosphere is a fickle thing. What blogger doesn’t want 400+ comments? Well, when some of those comments tell you that you are stupid, insane, unfit, etc. the number of comments won’t matter. After all that stuff with Deadly Viper, I’ve put much more prayer and pause into each word and post.

Her post also made me think about sibling rivalry in real life – me and my sister, my husband and his siblings, and my own kids. It made me think about Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, Martha and Mary. And how all of us children, girls and boys, have parents who loved their children but failed. Could you imagine the blog posts Abel, Esau and Leah would have written?

Thank God we can all take a breath and remember we’re all human. Right?

Human, flawed parents. Because only a real but imperfect parent in a broken world wouldn’t automatically cry with tears of joy and feel her heart burst when her perfect newborn is placed in her arms. I cried for those reasons and because I was scared out of my hospital gown that my doctor was going to discharge me and assume I had not only read all of the baby books but memorized the information so that I could take care of that teeny, tiny baby whose head (which apparently was still soft and mushy) and body flopped around. How could she not be my favorite?

I actually joke with my kids about being my favorite. Every now and then I will look at my daughter and say, “You are my favorite daughter.” She’s my only daughter. I tell my second child, “You are my favorite son born in June.” And then I’ll tell my youngest, “You are my favorite son born in October.”

My kids think I am crazy, but I say those things because in my heart of hearts I know that because I am human and sinful and flawed that sometimes my imperfect attempt at equal love is not received equally or expressed equally.

I know that to my sons it could look like I favor my daughter because she loves to spend time helping me pick out what outfit to wear to the wedding Peter and I will be attending on Saturday. The boys don’t want to help but they want my time, and today my time went to determining color-appropriateness for a spring but snowy wedding celebration.

And later this month it will look like I am favoring the boys because we are going to spend some time standing in line for the coal mine exhibit and staring at millions and millions of fish while I make jokes about eating shrimp and salmon for dinner. I will be doing my best to ruin my daughter’s spring break because I love my sons more.

When I want a big hug to make me feel good my youngest wins. He will still attempt the koala bear hug where he wraps his arms and legs around me and hang on with a big grin on his face. How could he not be my favorite? How could I not love him more?

When I want to hear words of encouragement and affirmation my older son wins. He will often come up to me and announce, “Mom, I love you. You are an awesome mom.” I use a bookmark he made for me for Mother’s Day four years ago. On it he writes that I am “caring, smart, honest, thankful, beautiful and organized”. Oh my goodness! How could he not be my favorite? How could I not love him more?

And when I want to laugh and share secrets and dreams and fears or dance down the aisle at Costco (actually, she’s the one who does that) or be the one she wants when she’s trying something new and scary my daughter wins. We’ve shared rites of passage together in Sephora, at the foot of her bed in whispers, giggles and tears, and at the wheel of a minivan. How can she not be my favorite? How could I not love her more?

But I don’t. I don’t love my daughter more than my sons or vice versa, but the possibility scares me. It’s scary because I’m Asian and there is a cultural history that has valued the lives of boys and men over the lives of girls and women. Family members hoped I would give birth to a son but God gave me what He thought best – a firstborn daughter. My life is not worth as much, even though my entire physical being as a woman is necessary to produce the more valuable sex.

It’s scary because I’m American with a history of wanting to put women in their place, and then move them into the factories because we were needed, and then putting women back to make space for the more deserving men. I live in America where the trafficking of women and girls is happening everyday and misogyny and sexism is not in the past but in our pop music, vernacular and paychecks. It is our country’s present.

And it’s really, really scary because we don’t want to admit it but we’ve all played favorites, and we’ve all been played. The former is easier than the latter in my experience. I was the smart one. My sister was the pretty one. My parents didn’t play favorites but their words of affirmation felt like it, and it took years/is taking years to untangle those childhood moments. I know I love each of my kids differently but I hope it’s equally because they are created so uniquely by a creative and perfect God, but my love is so imperfect that it’s bound to be misunderstood and unequal.

So I’ve been trying to ease my daughter’s pain by suggesting we go to cupcake shop or walk along the Mag Mile, but there is no way I am going to let my boys help me pick out my outfit for Saturday. (Hmmm. Sexist? Probably. But I’ll save that for another post another day…)

Speaking From and In the Gap

I agreed to lead a seminar on parent-child relationships because for a moment I thought I knew enough about being a parent or a child to have 90-minutes of material. As the parent of a teenager and two tweens and as the child of two living parents I find myself more in the middle than ever before trying to speak to one “audience” and then another. I spend hours talking to students about how Jesus transforms our lives while I long to see that transformation happen faster and clearer in my own life as well as in the lives of my own children. And I’m certain my parents have moments when they are still waiting for some sign of change on my part, too. Forever the stubborn, strong-willed child even when I am now also parent.

Just last week I was teaching out of the book of Esther at the Asian American InterVarsity chapter at Northwestern University (hold your snickering, folks), and a student was asking me about my days as a Wildcat since we were in the building that was home to my area of study. He ended the conversation with a great line: “I was born the year you graduated.”

Thanks, kid.

So I’ve been sitting on this parent-child relationships seminar for about two weeks now and the one thing that keeps coming to my mind and heart is to give words of blessing and love because what keeps coming to me during my prep and prayer time is this overwhelming sense of displacement and missed messages. It’s hard enough as a parent who speaks literally the same language as a child. The biggest gap I often have to bridge with my daughter is a generational one. I don’t particularly like low-rise skinny jeans but I don’t have to wear them to understand them. In my day it was sweatshirts hanging off of one shoulder or really BIG HAIR. For my parents and for the parents of the students I often encounter, the gaps are language, generation, culture and values. I know God’s love always wins, but human love often misses with the best of intentions.

I’m not really sure where, if anywhere, I am going with all of this, but it’s been ringing in my heart for days now. In a culture that nurtures a sense of entitlement in a generation wrestling with delayed adulthood, these young adults aren’t as adult as another generation might have been and unable to find the help in the areas where they really are still young.

What do you wish you knew about your parents that would help inform you about where they are coming from? What do you wish your parents knew about you that you think would help them understand you? I spend a lot of emotional energy trying to figure out ways to connect with each of my kids, to tell them they are loved by me and their dad and by God in ways they can hear and understand it. But as the parent I am deeply moved when my kids figure out ways to connect with me and speak those same words of love into my life.

Children, you are deeply loved by flawed parents and by a perfect God. That’s what I hear when I’m quietly sitting in the middle of the gap.

 

 

Full-time Ministry and Motherhood

I’ve had another quiet spell on the blogging front. Writing energizes me, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen for public consumption. The end of the year came and went, and Peter and I have spent quite a bit of time fixing the flaws to our calendaring system. If only our refrigerator had an iPad on it where our perfectly synced google and iCal calendars could appear in its rainbow glory.
This is a cheat blog post. The content appears in “Models of Ministry: Husband in the Workplace”, which is part of a resource developed for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff. It is linked on the staff website this month, which I didn’t know about until a few e-mails and Facebook posts alerted me to the fact that I had written something. While the following piece was written with InterVarsity staff in mind, I do believe that quite a bit of translates into a non-Christian ministry context. Every mom I know is a working mom, and for all of us parents, calendaring is a verb. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have a paying job that is personally satisfying and has made me a better mother. Not everyone gets to say that.
But parenting is not easy. I have plenty of stories of bringing sick children to lie on the floor during meetings I had to run or leaving a grocery cart full of groceries in the store because when I say, “If you don’t stop (insert unacceptable behavior), we are leaving the store” I am not making an idle threat. So being a part of an entire resource for and about working mothers for the organization I work for and with was hardly work.
(For those of you who only “know” me through this blog or the book I helped author, I am a full-time working mother – the regional multiethnic director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA and am based out of my pretty green home office. For more information please visit www.intervarsity.org and if what you see makes you want to be a part of what I do, feel free to join my financial support team by going to www.intervarsity.org/donate/to/kathy_khang ).

What were the key factors shaping your choice of model for ministry and motherhood?
I had already been in the marketplace for five years, gotten married and had my first child when I made the move to join InterVarsity staff. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be a working mom just because I was going into campus ministry…until I realized there were so few of us.

What was most difficult or challenging about your choice?
Hands-down childcare was and continues to be the most difficult and challenging part of the decision because it affects my family and my personal development. Campus ministry doesn’t fit neatly into daycare hours, nor does the level of financial compensation fit easily into the cost of quality childcare. Overnight student retreats and staff meetings and travel have required constant negotiation with family, friends, supervisors and colleagues. And because my husband is not on staff, has a set schedule, and has limited flexibility and because taking advantage of any flexibility has a direct impact on our finances, figuring out how to manage two careers takes a great deal of energy, planning, communication and grace.

During my CSM days I was blessed by a wonderful group of students who watched my kids for free as their ministry to the chapter, freeing me up to meet with other students while they fed my kids jellybeans and McDonald’s and pored love and affection on them. But it was never easy or seamless.

My husband and I decided that we would do our best to schedule my job around his for very practical reasons – his job paid more. That meant staying part-time because the full-time job required three weeks at Chapter Focus Week as well as additional area, divisional, regional and national meetings that did not and could not offer childcare.

I made the choice to put personal leadership development and training on a much slower track in order to accommodate my family’s needs and time limitations. It also meant feeling like I had no choice but to say “no” to many wonderful opportunities to teach or be trained, and digging deep into fears that saying “no” too many times would mean the invitations would dry up. To be honest, some opportunities do dry up but others have come back around now that I am full-time and my children are all in school.

My childcare needs have continued to change as the kids have gotten older, entered school, added activities, etc. and as my roles and my husband’s career demands have changed. We are frequently at our desk with our calendars mapping out requests for time-off, adjusting doctor’s appointments, notifying the school and teachers to call Peter in case of an emergency because I am out of town. It has forced us to communicate better.

What have you valued or appreciated about your choice?
Being on staff with InterVarsity has been a gift to me and to my family. It has not been easy, and I often step back to make sure this decision is right for this time in my life and in my family’s life. The choice gave my husband and me a chance to put our values into practice and honor our marriage vows in tangible ways. Honoring one another in a two-career family has required some difficult, heartfelt, honest, conversations about ambition and opportunities and sacrifice.

I can still find myself envying staff couples who would serve their weeks at Chapter Focus week or attend staff conferences and still have vacation time to spend together. For us those situations have required us to either use my husband’s vacation time to stay home with the kids, for the family to come with me at our cost or for me to ask my supervisors to be excused from meetings, conferences and training. It has meant being sure of the calling but uncertain about the intensity or feasibility of pursuing that call at various points in our family’s life.

But all of those choices have in turn opened up an extended family to us. Alumni and fellow staff who met my children when they were young enough to nap in a carseat in the corner or stay busy with a few coloring books when I was able to attend meetings don’t see them as often but from a distance continue to watch Bethany, Corban and Elias grow up, and they have been blessed through a few key relationships developed through my years on staff. My kids look forward to Chapter Focus Week at Cedar Campus and talk about the various conferences and retreats, which to them have been mini-vacations with an ever-changing extended family.

It has also kept me honest and forced me to dig deep into my soul and then run to Jesus about my personal ambitions, frustrations, envy, calling and roles. There are roles and jobs I would be interested in pursuing, but I continue to need a job with some degree of flexibility because the public school system isn’t flexible and my husband’s boss’ vacation requests will always take priority over his.

What advice would you give to women as they’re considering what path is appropriate for them?
You need to do three things: pray, talk with your husband and find support. Whether you choose to stay on staff or leave, and whether or not your husband is on staff, you need to pray and sit at Jesus’ feet because there are many things motherhood will make you worry about. Whatever you decide you may have moments of regret, of feeling like you’ve lost a part of your identity, etc. Be with Jesus first.

And then talk with your husband. There is nothing as demanding as parenthood (well, maybe caring for an aging parent, but that’s another discussion), and I’m not close to being done yet. Your choice may be crystal clear so talk about it with your husband so that when the decision doesn’t seem so clear the patterns of communication are set and they are strong.

Pull out your calendars, know what your babysitter can or cannot do (Evenings? Weekends? Overnight care? Sick child childcare?) You will need to look at the realities of your schedules. How flexible is your husband’s career? How will his schedule look against your schedule work with consideration to childcare? How will scheduling demands affect your effectiveness? Will you or your husband run home from a meeting to pick up your kid from school because she has a fever? Will it always be you because your students will understand or will you take turns? How will you help your husband understand your job and InterVarsity when some of your donors or students don’t even understand all that you do and the importance of it?

How can you explain to your husband (and children) that the emotional intensity at the recent set of meetings means that even if you are “home” by 5 p.m. you aren’t really ready to get dinner ready before he gets home or to appreciate the dinner he made before you got home? The topics and scenarios are endless.

Nothing makes you look crazier than putting on a Wonder Woman costume every day. We are not supermoms and we’re not meant to do this alone. Don’t let the brokenness of our culture and our families isolate you and let you think you have to or should do this alone.

Find a mom’s group or a group of moms who may not have chosen your exact path but support you, pray with you and for you, ask you challenging questions that bother you until you have to go pray and journal. Find women who are single, widowed, empty-nesters from whom you can learn from and with whom you can also find a different audience for the things you’ve learned as well.

Oh, and let me add a fourth – don’t judge. Whatever decision you make, you know it wasn’t a piece of cake. You may not make the same decision as I did, but one decision isn’t better than the other.

 

Why I Would Never Claim to Be Superior, Especially As a Mother

For the record, I am not Chinese.

If you haven’t read the Wall Street Journal article about Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior please expand your circle of friends and acquaintances. The article’s author Amy Chua is a Yale Law School professor (seriously?!) and my cynical side thinks she might be gunning for a spot during Oprah’s final season.

I’ve read and re-read the opinion piece several times and it’s a messy, mixed bag of emotions and thought for me. I am a not quite 1.5/2nd gen Korean American. I immigrated to the U.S. when I was 8 months old and just last year became a U.S. citizen. I grew up wishing I was White=American and unsure of how to love and honor my parents and survive adolescence as a bi-cultural kid when so few understood where I was coming from and going home to.

Which is probably why Chua’s commentary is hitting a nerve with me and so many of my Asian American friends. Deep down inside some of what she writes about is true. And we know it. It is why so many of my Asian American friends understood with absolutely no explanation why I had given part of my advance check from More Than Serving Tea to my mother. It is why so many of my Asian American friends and I share a knowing laugh when we reminisce about our childhood memories. It is why my husband, daughter and I laughed at some of the recent “Asian” commentary on Glee. And it is also why so many of my Asian American struggle to fight against the stereotypes of the Model Minority because we are not one big monolithic math team. We are more than the sum of our musical and mathematical abilities but sometimes it’s a no-win game. We want to succeed because so much of the stereotyped American Dream experience is about success.

Which is why Chua’s piece hits a different nerve because there is something about the response from non-Asian Americans that bothers me. Chua’s piece is as much a statement about her specific, culturally-bound and sometimes broken parenting style as it is about a generalized American style of parenting. Defenders of the American/Western way seem to think that “their” style where everyone gets a ribbon for participation, perfect attendance, self-esteem or happiness is the better route to success and more happiness.

If I parent like a Tiger Mother (I prefer Dragon, wink, wink) I am abusive. If I parent like a stereotypical American parent my child loves her/himself but really too few will look at me and think “American”. As one who forever lives in the tension, we are all very broken people and parents. Whether it’s through the pursuit of academic excellence or self-esteem, extremes lead to idolatry. My children and their success or happiness is not the end goal, but I see that value played out regardless of race, ethnicity and class.

I was given/made to take piano lessons, but I started dreadfully late – fourth grade, I think. Which, by the way, is when the public school system here starts band and orchestra. I remember my mother saying at least once that she wanted to give me and my sister a chance to learn the piano because she never had the opportunity to do the same as a child. So I often reluctantly learned to read music, play the piano and then the flute. As an adult I revisited music and realized my mother was right. I did regret quitting. My piano and flute skills aren’t where they could have been and where I would like them to be, but I am grateful for the chance to decide that now even though it was forced on me then. So there. It’s too late to call DCFS on my parents.

Academics were stressed because when you are the child of immigrants you don’t have the luxury of understanding the system, networking, interview skills, legacies and missed opportunities. Getting top grades, arming your college application with the very best of the very best, proving that being a hyphenated American/immigrant with parents who don’t speak flawless English doesn’t mean you are stupid or abused. When your family has given up everything to come to America mediocrity is not the preferred end result.

I was on poms, edited my school newspaper, served on the state board of education student advisory board, sang and danced in the high school musical, managed to get better than good grades and, despite the concerns of “Western parenting” advocates I’ve read in the comments sections of various blogs, have friends. I tell my daughter that had we been in school together I would have been her nightmare.

My parents didn’t forbid extracurricular activities, but they didn’t always understand them. Heck, my daughter is on the poms squad now and I don’t always understand it. But my parents emphasized grades, and with each fluctuation in my GPA came a wave of self-doubt. Do my parents still love me? Am I smart enough? Will my parents ever be proud of me?

Which is where the pendulum swings back. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, depression is the second leading cause of death for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women between 15 and 24, who consistently have the highest suicide rates among women in that age group. AAPI women over 65 have the highest rates of suicide among all races in that age group. Those are the type of top rankings we Americans don’t often talk about when evaluating the success of self-esteem programs at school. After Chua’s book it’s too easy to blame the Tiger Mothers who emphasized achievement but fell short on communicating love, support and respect but when are we also going to take a look at how public health services are failing a generation of Americans of Asian descent or how school programs that are meant to build up a student’s sense of achievement isn’t translating cross-culturally? My depression is as much nature as it is nurture. Chemical imbalances are real. And so cultural forces – American cultural forces that pushed me as much as Korean cultural forces. Solely blaming Asians parents for those statistics is irresponsible and short-sighted.

And to those of you who have thought, “Just wait until Chua’s daughters are older. Let’s see how it all pans out” in a judgmental sort of way do what I did and ask for forgiveness and extend some grace. God knows parenting is hard enough without having someone wait for us to fail.

In the end the article and flurry of comments and commentary makes me angsty because our definitions of success, superiority, achievement and happiness are so completely messed up and complex. I would be lying if I said that I don’t want my children to succeed, to live full and rich lives, to enjoy the very best of what God has to offer in life in all of the physical, emotional and spiritual ways but I know that it won’t always come in the ways I want to. I am angsty because I can’t help but think of the story of the prodigal son. I’ve heard so many sermons about the son who squanders everything to pursue a version of happiness but goes back to his father’s home because in the end home is where he thinks of. I wonder how the other son missed or misunderstood his father’s love and lavish provision as only belonging to the “less successful” son. The party and celebration and love and sense of belonging was always there for both of them but they both misunderstood success and love.

Instead of criticizing the style of parenting maybe we should take a closer look and critique the end goals we are hoping our children will achieve because the beginning and end for me as a parent doesn’t start, shouldn’t start with academics or achievements and end with worldly success and gain.

So how do we learn? I hope I learn from others. What have you learned from your parents and what are learning as a parent?

 

Is This a Log in My Eye?

I’ve been a little preoccupied with my child’s weight, to the point of scouring new ways to protein- and calorie-boost snacks. A larger serving of scrambled eggs at breakfast. A protein bar for a snack. An extra slice of turkey in the sandwich. A bowl of cereal after school. An apple and a scoop of ice cream for dessert.

But would I be doing this if it were my daughter?

I had to stop and think about that one…and clearly I am still thinking about it. My son, Corban, has a slighter build, and right now is almost the same height and weight as his younger brother, Elias. I’m fairly certain that if a growth spurt doesn’t happen in the next few weeks, the two will be sharing pants and shirts, which makes it easier for me.

But we noticed this summer that Corban was noticing that he was smaller, not just shorter, than his friends. He voiced some concern about being shirtless at the pool (thank goodness swim shirts make being wet and in the sun for hours a wee bit safer) and about changing in front of other boys for gym class.

He was worried about being too small, too skinny.

As his mother I’m worried about nutrition being a contributor (we’ll suspend issues of genetics for now) to his small-ish frame and worried that this awareness was contributing to his reluctance to try different sports. So I did what any worried, parenting-out-of-my-own-issues parent would do. Protein-packed snacks and frequent offers of said snacks? No problem.

But for no reason other than my own neuroses did I stop the other afternoon after straightening up the protein-packed pantry and ask my husband, “Do you think I would be trying to increase protein- and calorie-loads if this were Bethany and not Corban?”

I remember when Bethany was a toddler who downed whole milk as if we had a dairy farm in our backyard. Family members scolded us for feeding her whole milk because “that will make her fat”. I bristled and you can imagine my polite, pursed half-smile and reply.

Those relatives never said anything about Corban or Elias getting fat on whole milk.

But my kids aren’t toddlers anymore. My unscientific observations after three kids and six nieces and nephews are that baby fat is cuter on boys a whole lot longer than on girls and that any baby fat that lingers is written off faster for boys than for girls.

The world is, however, changing. Body image issues are equal opportunity as young boys see youngish men flaunt photoshopped six packs and pecs. How do I know? Because my boys noticed what hours of yoga and running did to my arms this summer.

“Mom, look at your arms! You look like a man!” Corban exclaimed. He proceeded to tell Peter that Mommy was stronger because Mommy had bigger muscles. (For the record, Peter is and most likely will always be stronger, but for now my arm muscles are more defined. And he and I talked to all of the kids about health, exercise, what strength and health look like for men and women of different body types and other fun conversations during quality family moments.)

So as one who often writes about women fitting into and the redefining the world of men, I felt it necessary to hit the pause button.

If it were Bethany and not Corban with a very low BMI, would I be packing the pantry with nutrition bars?


9/11.

“Nine years ago, I was two years old, Mom,” Corban casually mentioned during our morning drive. “And Elias, you weren’t even born yet. Do you remember 9/11, Mom?”

Yes, I remember it like every other American remembers it.

Where were you when the planes hit the Twin Towers? I was standing in my kitchen having just dropped off my daughter at school. The tv was on, but more for background  noise, as if my toddler wasn’t providing enough on his own.

What were you thinking as you watched the tv? I was thinking it was a joke, or a mistake, or an accident. And then I thought about driving to the school to get my daughter. I thought about asking Peter to come home from work. I thought it was a little over-the-top that the shopping malls were being shut down but I wasn’t getting called to bring my daughter home. I thought that this might be it.

But Corban connecting his own age to the events we have all spent more than a moment or two today remembering gave me pause to consider how my responses to his and his siblings’ questions will frame, shade and color their understanding of history made in their lifetime.

We did not watch any news coverage today. We listened a bit to radio spots about memorial services held, but we did not go out of our way to see the images – video and still photographs – again. But we continued to talk. We talked about how scared, worried, confused, angry, sad, lost and shocked I was, we all were. But I also talked about how the day was as “normal” as it could be for him, a two-year-old at the time.

So much has changed for all of us, even those of us who were only connected to the unspeakable acts of terrorism by residency or citizenship or humanity. Like some of you, I did not know anyone who died as a result of 9/11. But all of us have wrestled with the brokenness of the world in a way we did not expect.

Shortly after 9/11 Peter and I argued about something that now seems so silly. We argued over the fact that he had left shopping for my birthday gift to the last minute, which meant he couldn’t/didn’t get a gift for me until after my birthday. Why? Because in all of the post-9/11 crazy, so many public buildings were closed to the public. Every shopping mall in the metro area was closed.

We were all so terribly afraid.

Bethany had just started kindergarten and now nine years later she is in high school. Today the country commemorated 9/11 but I know she and her friends mulled over how miserable high school is.

Corban could hardly communicate and here he was initiating the conversation.

Elias was not quite three weeks away from making his dramatic but fast-paced entrance into the world.

And Peter and I had no idea how our stories and memories would help shape the future and history.

How do you remember and tell your history?

How Old is Old Enough: Facebook

I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on Facebook and how old is old enough for Facebook.

My older son is in middle school and has periodically asked about FB, but he has not asked me often enough for it to be an issue. Yet. But I’m sure it will be because I am certain the day is coming when I will be told that he is the ONLY one at school who doesn’t have a FB page OR a cellphone.

My oldest was allowed a FB page before she started 8th grade. We agreed on the following restrictions:

  1. We would be her FB friends. We would not post obnoxious “We believe in you” messages on her wall or tag her baby pictures, but we wanted to be “there”.
  2. We would have her password.

Pretty straightforward. Over time there have been a few minor conversations –  photos I asked her to take down, inappropriate photos her friends have posted and that I can see because their privacy settings are so low that I can see them, etc.

But as any parent learns, each kid is different and each kid may grow up in the same home but in their own world. The three year gap between each kid means my oldest knew a few kids in 5th grade with cellphones and my youngest will know many more kids in his 5th grade year who own phones.

We are a wireless, electronic society. Our desire to be connected to one another has created entirely new ways of communicating (and spelling) bc its fastr 2 txt 2 ur bffs. My kids talk about “Skyping” their cousins instead of calling them. My older son has asked if I tweet. As a parent who wants to stay connected to her children and their lives, I continue to weigh the pros and cons.

Personally, I’ve enjoyed FB. Social media can be an amazing way to connect people, but I can waste a lot of time following tweets and status updates when I should be connecting with people face-to-face or, at the very least, by phone. There is much to be said about tone, inflection and pitch as well as facial expressions and physical posture. I can and do share a lot of information about myself through blogging and FB, but it’s far more difficult to convey emotions and interest. Personally I find it the easy way out to relate to someone. If someone pisses me off I can block them. If I piss someone else off they can block me without me knowing about it. It’s the electronic silent treatment. Honestly it can feel rather soulless and disingenuous, which is ironic for a generation demanding authenticity.

Back to FB and my son. What do you think? When is a kid old enough for FB? What other restrictions, concerns, issues should I be considering?

To The Class of 2014: It’s Your Turn

I don’t know about you, but high school was not the high point of my life. Just my bangs.

I had some great friends and fun times (hours and hours spent on homecomings and proms, hours and hours in the newspaper office, hours and hours spent “studying”) mixed in with your average teenage drama (“I have nothing to wear” and “You don’t understand” were commonly heard at my home) and then a heavy dose of above-average drama (because what’s the fun in being just “average”?). It was high school, and it was all new to me and my family.

My parents never had Homecoming, Turnabout or Prom. I didn’t know how to explain to my parents why having toilet paper strewn all over the house after making the poms squad was a good thing. I didn’t know how to explain to my parents the difference between “going out” and “going out”, and I certainly didn’t know how to explain to them that a great group of friends and a stellar transcript couldn’t undo the angst of high school life (at least until I was out of high school).

So watching my daughter get ready and then leave this morning (please tell me why starting high school at 7:30 a.m. is a good idea?) for her first day of high school was bittersweet and breathtaking. She simultaneously texted and Skyped and primped, and then it was time for a few embarrassing photos, a brief embarrassing video and a too brief hug and kiss.

A few days ago I had a great conversation in the car with my daughter and her friends. They were talking about their schedules and lockers and getting lost and one of them asked me, “Were you popular in high school?”

“Well, I knew a lot of people and a lot of people knew me, but I wouldn’t say I was popular,” I answered.

“Were you as pretty as you are now?” (And I swear she used the word “pretty” and that I didn’t pay her.)

“No. At least, I didn’t think so then. I know better now, and I hope all of you do as well.”

Apparently high school girls then and now are worried about similar things.

She’ll be home in just a few hours, but I’m sitting here in the back-to-school silence wanting to fill it so I’ll invite you all to chime in with your own words of wisdom, advice, humor, etc. for my daughter and her friends.

If you could tell her and the rest of the Class of 2014 a piece of your mind and heart, what would it be??

Superwoman Doesn’t Spend Her Morning In PJs

My superwoman outfit has been at the cleaners for a few years now, but every now and then I really, really want to see if it still fits. There is something particularly draining and yet sadistically energizing about taking on the world with a “I’m going to bake that cake from scratch and eat it with some organic milk and fair trade coffee while calendaring my family’s life on-line with a smile and a load of laundry in the dryer” attitude. Maybe it’s just me.

But I am not superwoman, though many of us try out of love for our children and family and friends and out of our personal brokenness. Deep down I want to exceed expectations because I want to be successful because failure can suck, especially when I see it on the faces of those I love most dearly.

So I was encouraged to read a friend and former colleague’s blog post on failure and success and how that plays out in real life as a wife/mom/grad student/campus minister. She has a full life, and she, like many of us, is wrestling with the fact that there are just some things she will never be good at or succeed at, let alone enjoy doing. She is sending her superwoman outfit to the cleaners, but, like so many of us, is trying to reconcile expectations (self-imposed and those of others on us), needs, wants, personalities, etc.

I’ve grown up with a bi-cultural understanding of success. The American Dream is a pull yourself up from your bootstraps narrative, but the American Dream for children of immigrants and particularly Asian immigrants involves extended family and ancestors. We pull not for ourselves but for those we left behind and will never see again, for those who are with us and for those who are yet to come. When we pull we drag with us ancient stories and family history. I pull the history of the Korean War and stories of families being separated and precious rice spilled into the dirt and a love/hate relationship to the West into the present filled with American and Korean values clashing still into the future where my children, nephews and nieces are just realizing they have dreams.

Success is not what I alone achieve for myself. It involves the entire family.

And failure is the same way. My screw up is not just mine but a mark against my entire family. When I screw up my living relatives and dead ancestors cringe and they don’t know why. When I fail it is not just because I didn’t study hard enough or practice long enough but also because somewhere someone failed to teach me the value of studying and practicing and perfecting. My failure is carried by my family as well.

So being superwoman is impossible. Who can fly with that kind of weight on her shoulders? Instead of fretting over the loss of superwoman, I spend a great deal of time trying to figure out Mary and Martha and their friend Jesus.

One particular incident I’ve written about before is their interaction in the Gospel of Luke. Martha is doing what a good woman does – preparing for her guests, but her sister Mary has taken it upon herself to act like a disciple and sit at Jesus’ feet. I know a lot of us Bible teaching folk have used that passage to talk and teach about discipleship, but what if Jesus’ conversation with Martha about Mary isn’t just about the one big thing – the being a disciple of Jesus is the better thing?

What if it’s also about all the other things we have to choose? Jesus doesn’t tell Martha she gets to stop being the hostess with the most-est. He doesn’t tell her that he refuses to eat the food she is preparing. He tells her that Mary happened to make the better choice and that will not be taken away from her. What if we make that one big choice – the being a disciple of Jesus thing – as we make lots of little, significant and seemingly insignificant choices. What would it look like if I considered which was the better choice each time I had a choice? One choice at a time.

I could beat myself over the head for the list of things I have already failed at this morning. Truth be told I’m sitting here in my pjs with a cold cup of coffee and a sink overflowing with dirty dishes, a laundry room that has immaculately conceived several loads of laundry. I don’t remember what my kids were wearing this morning so if they were late coming home I couldn’t tell the police officers what the kids were wearing for identification. I’m not sure one of the kids finished his homework. I know one of the kids did not have me sign a practice card. I have a ministry support letter that I needed to write a month ago, and two expense reports I need to file. I have a major training conference decision that had to be made last week. And it’s just TUESDAY!

But right now I am going to choose the better thing, and it is neither success nor failure.

The Growing Pains of Mother’s Day

I am a mother of three, but it wasn’t always this way.

1993: my first Mother’s Day as both a daughter and daughter-in-law. Two corsages, two cards, two gifts, two sets of expectations. Let’s just leave it at that.

1996: my first Mother’s Day remains a bit of a fog. I was five months post-partum, which meant five months into a low-level funk that was occasionally accompanied by a wave of intense and overwhelming crazy like I’d never experienced love for the little baby girl the doctor and nurses let me leave the hospital with after simply checking a couple of plastic bracelets. There I was celebrating Mother’s Day still scared silly that I would wake up and find out it was all a strange, cruel, sweet dream.

I’ve since come to realize it is all a wonderful, sometimes slightly horrifying and embarrassing reality, and I hope I never fall asleep.

1998: the suckiest most bittersweet Mother’s Day ever. I was emotionally raw, again, but this time from just having had a D & C. Our second baby had stopped developing in my womb at 6 weeks, but the body I had so trusted, the body I thought I knew, the body I thought I could control and “time” with pills and calendars tricked me in the most awful way. I miscarried. Another seven weeks would pass before we realized that we weren’t going to have a baby in the fall. Mother’s Day that year was horrible because I felt like such a selfish byatch. Why couldn’t I be happy with the one child God had already given me when there were thousands and thousands of women desperate to be a mother of one, let alone a mother of two? What was wrong with me for worrying about losing a fetus when I was so young and could easily get pregnant again? What the hell was wrong with me? Well, I was grieving the death of my child and the death of all the dreams I had for that child.

I realized how tightly I held onto hopes and dreams for this baby that had yet to see the light of day, and then I realized that slowly letting go was what I would have to continue learning for the rest of my life as a mom.

My one memory of that day is sitting with my daughter who reached up with her cute little hands to wipe away the tears I could not stop and said in her wisest two-and-a-half-year-old voice, “Mommy, you’re so sad.” I wanted to stop crying and smile, but all I could manage was to do both.

And I have since known that it is OK and absolutely necessary to be sad and deeply joyful and to let my children know when their hands and voices ease the sadness and are part of the reason I experience such joy.

Since then I have celebrated Mother’s Day as the mother of two and then of three. Each year I remind myself it wasn’t always this way. I remind myself that for me it is less about celebrating and being celebrated as it is remembering to be fully present. Remembering this is not a dress rehearsal or a dream I cannot fully remember. Remembering it’s a wonderful, broken, imperfect life. Remembering to love and let go at the same time. Remembering to feel the depth of pain and sadness and unbearable loss while knowing there is space at that same moment for joy and peace and love and even laughter.

Thank you, God, for Peter. I needed some help to become a mother, and every day he helps me become a better mother by being such a great father. I’m kind of competitive in a completely healthy, appropriate way.

Thank you, God, for Bethany, Corban and Elias (and even “baby Andrew” who pushed me to learn about letting go). They are the reason I get to pick the restaurant for lunch today and the reason I am more self-aware (i.e. I know how selfish I really am and how much sleep and/or coffee makes me a nicer person), and wiser, gentler, younger at heart and goofier.