Rooting for Gold, and Waving Taegukki and Old Glory

The Olympics are fun. We see great sportsmanship and whiny losers. We see patriotism is not unique to America, and apparently neither is the practice of covering your face/balding head/body in your country’s/team’s colors with face paint. We test the kids on their limited knowledge of national flags. We dream, even for a moment, that our kids will be inspired to try something new but not something as crazy as the skeleton. And we pick our favorites and cheer for, root for, celebrate with or shake our heads in defeat for our team.

But in some families like my extended family, it’s complicated and fun because of who we are – Americans, Korean-Americans, Koreans. My parents and I had an interesting and momentarily tense conversation over Apolo Ohno, and we probably sounded a bit like a version of the Korean and American press. And then we settled down to a barbecue feast for dinner. My dad said grace in Korean (which my husband and children cannot understand, but I told the kids their grandfather asked God to remind the kids to obey their parents) and then we passed around the baked beans, brisket and ribs, and then turned on the television to watch more speed skating.

What has been so interesting to me has been my older son’s reaction to the Olympics. During one of the speed skating events, he was quick to notice that there was a Korean skater competing against an American skater. His reaction? “Hey, look! There’s a Korean and an American! Cool! Who do we root for?”

I swear I  have never whispered in his ears, “You are Korean first.” (I remember hearing those well-intentioned words and walking away deeply confused and conflicted because wasn’t I both Korean and American equally, at the same time?)

We’ve explained to him and our other two children they are Americans whose cultural and ethnic roots are originally from Korea. We’ve explained in different ways as each of them mature and experience life what the term Asian-American or Korean-American can mean and why I identify myself that way. We’ve explained to them why we bow to our elders on New Year’s Day and the significance of the rice cake soup, and they simply lord over their non-culturally Korean friends that they get gifts for Christmas and cash for New Year’s.

It bothered me a bit that he would feel like he had to choose, but then I had to stop. It’s a wonderful and amazing thing that he proudly and delightfully identifies with both even though none of our children have stepped foot in South Korea and could one day become the President of the United States.

His pride in his Korean ethnic and cultural roots are not a result of being rejected by Americans (which was the case for me), and his pride in his birthright as an American isn’t born out of a jingoistic arrogance about America’s superiority (which I have often been on the receiving end). My journey, thankfully, is not his, and I am learning so much from his.

He asked this morning how the Americans and Koreans finished after last night’s events.

Corban, we all did well.

Do You or Don’t You: Valentine’s Day?

This will be the 18th Valentine’s Day sort-of-but-not-really-celebrated. Early in our marriage we were giddy-in-love and wrote notes and kept the local florist busy. One could fairly say we’ve become less romantic and increasingly practical. We are less giddy, more in love, write notes about getting the car’s oil changed and remember that cut flowers die but nothing says, “I love you” like getting one step closer to being debt free.

But if you must do cut flowers the $20 bunch at the grocery store placed in one of the many vases we received 17 years ago from our wedding will suffice. 😉

I grew up knowing my parents loved each other, but it wasn’t until college or so when I noticed my father making more of an effort to show my mother his love and affection. One year I remember he hung a little box containing a piece of jewelry on the gear shift of her car, and another year I remember he bought her a new watch and left it near her bathroom sink. The point is, I remember.

So every now and then Peter and I remember. We remember that our children are watching us and learning about marriage, commitment, honor, respect, faith, fighting fair and not so fair and…about love. We hug and kiss in front of the children. We argue with and apologize to one another in front of the children. We exchange gifts in front of the children.

But as a mother  I find myself looking far more critically at the messages around Valentine’s Day, and I get a bit weirded out. Commercials about men frantically trying to find the perfect sparkly something, floral arrangement, chocolates, lingerie, fragrance, etc. and print ads showing women wearing sparkly somethings or lingerie all for that special someone who isn’t necessarily their spouse until death is commercialized romance on drugs. I’m not sure it’s all that romantic let alone about love. Maybe it’s about “luv” – a generic imposter that looks like the real thing but falls terribly short?

I’m really not that cynical, but it’s a little crazy out there. Be careful. Seriously.

So this Valentine’s Day Peter and I will do what we’ve been trying to do for 17 years and lowering the pressure to compete with the commercials and celebrate our love. We will try to love our children and be kind and patient with them (and leave a little note and some chocolates for each of them), and we will try to love one another and be kind and patient with one another. We are hoping to have dinner with a young couple on the staring line of what will hopefully be a long running, long loving marriage. We can’t think of a more perfect Valentine’s Day.

What are your plans?

How Many Times Have You Sworn This Year?

I have raised my right hand and promised so many things so many times this year – to be truthful, that I am really me, that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by law…So help me God.

Monday the cold medication was working remarkably well so I took the kids to our local library so they could check out books, video games and a movie while I took another oath. Actually, the plan was to register to vote…which required documents and another oath.

So there I stood with my kids at my side and with lookers-on looking quite confused as I again raised my right hand and repeated the words, which I can’t remember. I think I swore that I was who the documents said they were and that I lived where they said I lived. I don’t remember…

Which is a bit troubling to me. For all the oaths I’ve taken this year in my American journey, I can’t say that I remember many of those promises and allegiances. Hmm…

Saying Goodbye to the Green Card – Goodbye

It’s final. I am naturalized citizen of the United States of America. I am an American – a Korean-American to be specific.

We filed in after having our identities checked against records and confirmed twice and then giving up our green cards. I wish federal law allowed me to snap a photo but we were in the foyer and not in the auditorium. There was something beautiful and poignant in that stack of green cards – so many stories to be told.

The ceremony was a mix of corny and genuine. The couple in front of me held hands and glanced several times at their 8-year-old-ish daughter who was presumably American-born and their photographer for the day. The couple and the woman to my right shed a few tears as 121 of us stood up as the names of the 44 countries we represented were called out. Lucky for them I always carry kleenex.

The immigration officer spoke about the sacrifices immigrants through the generations have made to make this country their adopted home – leaving behind lives to start anew, sometimes leaving behind everything for nothing more than hope.

My mind wandered a bit because I was eight months old when I left Seoul. I’m not sure what I left behind. The only story that tugs at my heart is that of my great-grandmother wandering the neighborhood, calling out for me long after we had left the country. I left her behind, and we never knew each other long enough to perhaps say a proper goodbye.

The ceremony also included recognizing the men and women currently serving in the armed forces, including the story of one man who was commended for his bravery and service in the Viet Nam War. Even before he was an American he fought for America.

Honestly, the well-scripted ceremony had me ready to pull out the kleenex for myself and then they played a music video complete with karaoke style lyrics of “I’m Proud to Be An American” on the three large screens. My apologies to those of you who love that song. Personally, it makes me cringe. The song rings a bit jingoistic, and if you’re going to showcase a song to welcome Americans let’s showcase the very best of what America has to offer. Or at the very least, play the national anthem recorded by a quality vocalist and orchestration. Ugh.

And before I knew it we were free to linger, take pictures by the stage or downstairs in the foyer  between the two flags, and leave the building as Americans. The security officer who had so humorously helped me and Peter through the security check-point congratulated me. We rushed off to pick up the kids from school after an equally rushed celebratory lunch – Portillo’s Chicago-style hot dogs.

As for my choice of proper attire, I dressed up. I paid way too much money to not take this day as a reason to dress up – a little black dress with a beautiful emerald green silk coat of my mother’s. She once told me that she had taken the fabric given to her by her in-laws as part of their wedding gift to her to have party dresses and matching coats made. She had imagined her life in America being full of parties and celebrations, but the dresses hung in her closet, dusty and unused.

I thought it appropriate that on the day I said goodbye to my green card I would wear my mother’s unused green party clothes to celebrate. Thank you, Mom and Dad for giving me your dreams, and thanks to all of you who joined me on this journey.

Calcium, Sleep and Phone Calls Just Because: Welcome 2010

I’ve been MIA with the holidays taking over life. We had a great but full two weeks with family, friends and food, but today (Monday) the kids went back to school, and I went back to my Monday routine – cardio and sculpting class, lots of water, one latte, less food than last week’s average and quiet office time in my happy green office.

Our family rang in the New Year with Korean food, Japanese soda, a few rounds of Pit, a looooong round of Mexican Train (does anyone know why that dominos game is called Mexican Train? Elias wanted to rename it Asian Train), and lots of laughter over my inability to wakeboard on Wii Resort. I was asked what my New Year’s resolutions were…I usually don’t make resolutions because I don’t like the pressure.

But after thinking about it for a few days there are just three things I’d like more of in my life:

1. Calcium – there is nothing like seeing your shrinking grandmother to remind you that stronger bones are within reach. I started working out with more intentionality in 2008, and by the fall of 2008 I added weights (my sculpting class) to my routine. I love the class but I hate crunches and crazy pushups. This year I will finally listen to my doctor and add calcium supplements.

2. Sleep – I don’t get enough of it and it shows. It’s already past my bedtime. No LOST episodes tonight.

3. Phone calls just because – in an age of text messages, Facebook and blogging it’s tough to keep up and keep in touch with friends. Seriously. Status messages are great, but if I can’t see someone face-to-face hearing their voice is second best, not seeing an emoticon. I used to regularly call friends just to chat for a few minutes – no agenda, no reason, but technology in many ways created more busy work for me. I’m hoping to slow things down a bit and pick up the phone more often.

And if I had a #4 it would be to be more welcoming to all the newbies in my Monday morning cardio and sculpting classes.

Do any of you make New Year’s resolutions?

Christmas Traditions New and Old

It’s two weeks away from Christmas. Are you feeling anticipation and excitement or is there a sense of panic, anxiety and dread?

Usually about this time I want to run away or let the kids run around the house to find the presents so we can enjoy them as their winter break starts and so I don’t have to waste wrapping paper. We live in America, and this is not Christmas. This is the holiday season, and the holidays make people crazy. I just saw a lady get out of her car to scream at another driver in the parking lot. Crazy scream with arms flailing. Happy holidays, lady.

I love Christmas, and the older I get the more I cling to traditions, new and old. I have faint memories of decorating the tree. My hope is that my kids will have much more vivid memories of decorating the house and the tree. Decorating the tree together is a must. Each child has a set of “their” ornaments – their baby ornaments, the homemade ornaments, the school photo in a frame ornaments. Bethany has an ornament that looks like a pair of pointe shoes. Corban has a few Star Wars ornaments. Elias has a few Star Wars ornaments. Peter has a few Star Wars ornaments. I have one of a cup of coffee, and Elias just bought me one with my name on it.

I’ve told the kids that when they grow up and move out they will get to take their ornaments to their new home to decorate their first Christmas tree with while I cry buckets. There is a pang in my heart even as I write this.

A few years ago when I was serving as the worship director at a church I introduced the church to Advent. Congregation, meet Advent. It helped us as a contemporary worship service kind of church and me as a selfish, working out my personal issues through my parenting person remember that waiting for Christmas and our Christ invites us to do just that – to wait, to hope, to anticipate, to see.

Last year we asked the kids to wait to open their presents until we had a short family devotion and then lit the center candle – the Christ candle. There was some grumbling, but it was worth the wait. This year we will do the same, except this year I will remember to blow out the four tapers before we open gifts because purple and pink wax all over the artificial wreath is messy.

I’d love to hear from all of you…what are some of the traditions you keep during this blessed season?