What in the world??

What a week:

Elias went to first grade.

Michelle Obama rocks. I don’t care what she’s wearing (ok, I admit, she does have style), and I wish the media would stop wasting my time on that. She was amazing, and listening to her brought tears to my eyes.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton thanking “the sisterhood of the traveling pants suits” was a great line. No matter what she said the critics were going to find something wrong or lacking in her speech. She did a wonderful job of saving face, towing the party line, and being a leader who finally understood it was not her time to lead.

As of this morning, the Cubs’ magic number is 23.

Yesterday, Sen. Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination. He is the first African American to be a major party’s presidential nominee. Amazing. Hopeful. It was a great evening shared with Peter and Bethany as we watched history unfold and talked about the Civil Rights movement and the 19th Amendment. And again, what about his wife Michelle? Can we vote for her?

And now I’m watching Sen. John McCain announce his running mate –  Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin.

The first things I’ve heard about her:

  1. She is a mother of a child with Down Syndrome.
  2. She was the runner-up in the Miss Alaska.
  3. “Is this a person who can take on the war against terror?”

The pundits are talking their heads off about McCain’s “bold move”. Personally, my initial reaction is a bit more visceral. Why should it surprise anyone that a man is using a woman to gain power? But this does make it all the more interesting. What do you think?

I’m am literally typing while watching CNN. The music is a bit overly dramatic, and what’s with the audio?

What a crazy week.

Sub-par English won’t be allowed on LPGA Tour

Sorry. I couldn’t help it. Bad pun, I know, but I just wanted to show off my effective English. Read on.

Apparently being a great golfer is not enough to keep you on the LPGA Tour. Now you need to learn English.

I don’t golf. I don’t hate golf. My husband golfs (or is it “plays golf”?). Some of my best friends’ husbands play golf. I may even learn how to golf someday.

But this isn’t really about golf, but I’m really not sure what it’s about. The LPGA is still working through exact wording of the rules (maybe they are still learning English?), but the gist is that all LPGA Tour members must be able to speak English “effectively” so they can interact with pro-am partners, give media interviews and deliver a winner’s acceptance speech. Currently, there are 45 players from South Korea on tour and 121 international players representing 26 countries. The LPGA’s spin is that the players who are affected by this change understand and agree with it because, after all, it is for their professional development and in their best interests to learn English.

So if it’s that important for professional athletes to learn “effective” English, why hasn’t MLB, the NBA and the PGA jumped on board? There are plenty of professional athletes (and coaches and fans, for that matter) whose comments are peppered with “um”, “er” and “uh” and grammatical errors to make any English teacher cry. Is this really an issue of communication? Why not continue to allow translators? 

The LPGA is feeling a little bit of heat:

“We have been puzzled, if not surprised, by some of the reactions,” said deputy commissioner Libba Galloway, who previously was the LPGA’s top attorney. “We see this as a pro-international move.”

How is making professional women’s golf English-only a “pro-international move”? Can someone please help me understand this line of reasoning?

I read this snippet on ESPN.com about K.J. Choi, a Korean player on the PGA Tour:

A few months ago, Choi had finished a brief interview when a reporter tried to say, “Thank you” in Korean, but told him he forgot the word. Choi laughed and playfully shared this thought with his agent.

“I taught him one word seven years ago and he still doesn’t remember,” he said. “And he expects me to learn his entire language?”

As someone who will never be on the LPGA Tour but speaks fluent English and broken Korean I resonate with Choi. Fluency in English is one of the golden rings children of immigrants must reach for. Many of my Korean-American peers have “lost” their ability to speak Korean because assimilation was the stepping stone to the ultimate goal – the American Dream.

The harsh reality is that even as we achieve some degree of the American Dream, many of us hyphenated Americans are still reminded that we are “other” or outsiders to what is truly American. So while I hope the LPGA Tour revisits this decision, my fear is that even if these golfers perfect their game and work on their English it won’t be enough to make them acceptable to those who are thinking to themselves, “What’s the big deal? You’re in America. Learn English”.

And it’s “Gahm-sah-hahm-nee-dah, you bah-boh.”


“The Talk”

I’m not really sure how it happened, but over the past few years I have become the “sex talk” speaker. One month last year I was speaking to four different college groups – all four talks were on the subject of sexuality. By the third talk I was working completely without notes, and by the end of the fourth talk I was tired of talking about sex.

I’ve been asked all sorts of questions by college students who want honest answers about sex and sexuality. Yes, many of these students are Christians. No, not all college students are having sex. Yes, many are or at least towing a very fine line. Yes, some of “those” students are Christians. There is a hunger and need out there for biblical teaching that goes beyond “don’t have premarital sex” or “stay pure until marriage”. Scaring people into chastity doesn’t work because not everyone feels guilty enough to stop having premarital sex. Guilt shouldn’t be the basis for the Church teaching chastity. Truth, discipline and worship should be the basis.

So, I really don’t have a problem talking about sex, sexuality, dating, relationships, etc. The challenge is now it’s time to talk with my own daughter. She has become a young woman before my own eyes. She has long shed the cute little summer dresses I picked out for layered tank tops and shorts that are almost too short she has picked out and bought with her own money. And when I look at her walk off with her friends what I really want to say is, “Don’t have sex. Don’t date until you’re at least a junior in high school. Don’t waste your time pining over boys until they are closer to being men. And mommy and daddy really love you so that’s why we’re locking you up in this tower until you’re 21.”

My parents never had the sex talk with me…unless you count the brief conversation I had with my mother after I returned from my honeymoon. (I wrote about this in More Than Serving Tea.) My mother spoke to me in Korean, just in case Peter happened to wander by, and gave me one piece of advice for the boudoir: KyoungAh, men and women are different. Men need it more. 

Yup. That was it. 

My sister, my father and I were having lunch a few months ago, and my dad swore that he and my mom had given us a set of books to teach us about the birds and the bees. My sister and I couldn’t stop laughing. We knew about the books only because we had found them in a bookcase we weren’t supposed to be looking through.  We were never given the books but we did look through them. I can’t say the books cleared up any questions we may have had, but thanks to time in the junior high locker room I heard a lot more than I really wanted to.

So, I feel a bit like a family pioneer charting new territory. Anyone out there have any sage advice or book suggestions? I’m being very serious here. I do not want to abdicate responsibility for these conversations to the school health curriculum. I want my children will have a healthier, fuller understanding of God’s gift of sexuality and sex than I did. What do you wish you had heard from your parents or understood about sex and sexuality?

On The First Day

They are all in school, and the house is strangely quiet.

I did not cry, though I did feel quite a pang in my heart as the boys lined up with their classmates and headed into school through the red doors. I felt gratefulness wash over me as I watched my daughter come with to say goodbye to her brothers and greet a former teacher. I felt a sense of amazement as the kids headed off to school for a new year of discovery.

This is my first day, too, and I’m not sure what to expect. For years the next step were outlined for me in “What to Expect” books. This is new and exciting and slightly horrifying. Why? Because for years I couldn’t get into a regular quiet time routine/exercise routine/self-care and management routine because the kids needed more of me. I’m sure I’m not alone. What are the things you couldn’t get done – big and little – because there were naps, diaper changes, playdates, preschool, mommy and me classes, etc.? For me the excuses, as amazing and cute as they were (and still are), are now in school for a good chunk of the day.

Lord, may I be open to the ways in which You are refining my understanding of You and of myself as I enter what feels like a new season. May we all feel Your presence today as we step out on this first day. Amen.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Monday is the first day of 1st grade for my youngest. After 13 years, all three children will be in school all day long.

Last year when I sent him off to his first day of kindergarten I took photos, shot video, and felt a little pang in my heart that the baby of the family was now responsible for his gym shoes getting into the cubby. “First time Moms” were crying as they watched their first or only child walk through the red doors. But I didn’t shed a tear. Instead, I couldn’t stop smiling. I think I went home and enjoyed a hot cup of coffee in one sitting, and then had to turn right back around to pick him up since kindergarten here is only 2 1/2 hours long.

(The second day was another story – imagine child wrapped around my body like a koala bear hugging a eucalyptus tree with wonderful principal extricating said koala child from my body while he cries. I was so glad the “first time moms” were still carrying kleenex, and all the more grateful the wonderful principal called an hour later to tell me koala child was smiling and doing just fine.)

On Monday I’ll walk my boys to school (my daughter is in middle school so we’ll take photos at home and say goodbye in the kitchen), take some photos, shoot some video, and feel a pang in my heart. I don’t know if I’ll cry…

“Kathy, what are you going to do with all of that time?”

A Page, a Cashier, a Waitress

When I was growing up, my parents and I went back and forth on the value of a part-time or summer job. As immigrants wanting their children to find “success” they wanted me and my sister to focus on the important thing – studying. Anything outside of studying, including socializing and working for a paycheck, was optional. Very optional. They figured they were working hard enough so that we wouldn’t have to later on. Our work was being top students.

But somehow I managed to take on a variety of part-time jobs. I suspect it had more to do with my parents’ desire to instill in me a good work ethic, to teach me the value of money and budgeting, and the reality that the money tree wasn’t growing fast enough to get both daughters through school.

So, here as best as I can recall are the jobs I had up until college graduation and what I learned:

  1. babysitter – I don’t like being in a stranger’s house, even if they are paying me to do so.
  2. library page – There are too many good books and not enough time to read them.
  3. park district swimming instructor – I teach swimming better than I can swim myself.
  4. cashier at an educational toy store – Somewhere out there someone can turn any educational kids’ game into a drinking game.
  5. private tutor – People will spend A LOT of money to help their kids write better, study better, test better.
  6. office administrative assistant – I like to organize.
  7. dry cleaning cashier – Working for your parents is difficult, but I did appreciate them even more.
  8. newspaper intern – I love the pressure of a deadline.
  9. hostess/waitress – Treating restaurant staff with respect and a smile goes a long way.
  10. radio intern – There is a lot of eating and laughing that goes on off-air.
What part-time jobs did you hold down and what did you learn? Will you encourage your children to work and save before college or is it all about the books?

Queen Bees

Has anyone read “Queen Bees & Wannabees – Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends & Other Realities of Adolescence” by Rosalind Wiseman? 

When we moved back to Illinois, one of our concerns was moving our daughter out of her charmed school experience. In Wisconsin, she was enrolled at a charter school – a public school that ran very much like a private school. The school drew from the entire school district by lottery so it had a great mix of students with one class per grade level.

The move here was rough all around, and our daughter had a tough year making new friends in a larger school. I remember talking with her teacher at parent-teacher conferences and asking about the girls and their friendships. This teacher was honest and said that cliques had already formed. 

For the past few years we’ve watched and counseled Bethany through a few friendship bumps and dramas and crisis. I’ve only stepped in once when I felt that another parent had crossed the line and owed Bethany an apology. But each time something happens I wonder, “Why is it that girls turn on each other? Why, even in adulthood, do women get so catty?”

Personally, I hated junior high  and high school. I couldn’t wait to leave. Looking back I’m sure some of it was “normal” teenage angst – not getting asked to the dance, not getting the name brand clothes, not being cool. Some of it was “normal” but painful; to this day I can still name some of my tormentors who teased and threatened me. You might think that I just need to let it go, but others of you might relate. My confidence today comes from God alone, but back then my confidence came and went with the wind or the way certain peers looked at me or spoke to me. I wasn’t a queen bee, but I was definitely an overachiever with a lack of self-confidence. (And there’s nothing like looking ahead to your 20th high school reunion and looking back at high school through facebook to bring it all back again!)

I picked up the book because I wanted to revisit adolescence just as my daughter is entering it. The way I see it is that I have an advantage over my mother. My mother grew up in Korea attending girls-only schools in a time and culture that no longer exists for either of us. Her junior high and high school experiences were frozen in time when she immigrated to the US, and when I hit puberty all bets were off. We literally were from different worlds. But for me and my daughter we have similar starting points – the Illinois public school system. I remember being worried about opening my locker and changing for gym so it was a good chance to release some pressure when Bethany and I went to the open house last year and neither of us got the locker open on the first try. I remember wanting the perfect outfit for the first day (actually, week) of school so it’s a blessing to be able to take her shopping with much more financial freedom than my parents. I remember wanting to fit in and have fun, but I have been able, so far, to guide Bethany in hopes that she doesn’t lose herself in the process of fitting in.

I also wanted to read the book to better understand myself. I am a grown woman, and when I’m honest I can admit that I long to fit in and am still trying to find my niche of friends in this community. There are the working moms and the stay-at-home moms. (Those labels don’t make sense to me. I rarely see a mom who doesn’t work or just stays at home.) There are the PTA moms and the soccer moms and the ballet school moms and some are the all-of-the-above moms. Most of us are just-managing-by-the-grace-of-God-moms. And just like in junior high there is gossip and the looks we give one another. Sometimes we are very much like our teenage daughters.

So, were you (or are you still) a queen bee or a target or somewhere in between? Be honest.

Learn English, You’re in America

We spent the weekend with my parents and my sister’s family – 6 adults, 7 children. Not a bad ratio, eh? My sister and I loved that all the kids could swim, none of them needed diapers or sippy cups, and we even managed a few moments to ourselves while everyone scattered at the water park. But I digress…

Elias and I were sitting on a double-innertube thingy waiting to go around the bend of a lazy river to go down a tube slide. The logjam we experienced was similar to the ones we endured on the Edens spur. However, the annoying thing was that this back-up was, in part, created by the many adults trying to bend the rules – rules that were posted on multiple signs throughout the park and along the lazy river.

The lifeguards were stopping riders who, instead of riding two to a tube, thought that maybe three could equal two. They also had to stop riders who wanted sit facing each other, hoping that they had misread the “face front” signs. The beauty of it all? Most of the lifeguards were students or folks younger than I who were from different countries – the Dominican Republic, Sweden, Spain. Here were “foreigners” politely asking “Americans” to read the signs posted in English.

Even Elias caught on pretty quickly as he saw people being switched around or asked to leave. We chatted about rules and respect, and how obeying the posted rules might have changed the situation. Elias then points to one of the signs and says, “Why didn’t they listen to the sign?”

I couldn’t help but laugh and think about the many times my parents or I have been told to “learn English, you’re in America!”. Some of those memories are just that – funny because we had made an honest mistake in the company of ignorant people who assumed that based on our appearance we couldn’t read/speak/understand English.

Or the time Peter and I were driving around a shopping mall looking for parking during the holidays when I spotted someone in another aisle. I hopped out of the car to “hold the spot” until Peter could swing around and wouldn’t budge when another irate driver came by. The driver and passenger started yelling at me about how “You can’t do that, you bleep-bleep! Where are you from, you bleep-bleep? Don’t you speak bleeping English? Go back to where you bleeping came from!” And since I grew up Chicago where we claim dibs on parking spots with lawn chairs and lumber, I didn’t think it was such a big deal. I stood there until Peter rounded the corner and parked the car. 

Other memories, like walking down the streets of Green Bay and having a pickup truck complete with a gun rack slow down and pull up alongside me with the driver and passengers yelling, “Go back to where you came from you bleeping chink!” still send chills down my spine.

So, we finally made it to the top of the slide, and the lifeguards were busy keeping us from getting stuck and helping the lady next to us get out and back in the tube because she ignored the signs (the ones that read “adults should ride in the back when riding with a small child”. The lifeguards – all three of them – looked completely frustrated and annoyed by the sense of entitlement some of the guests exhibited so I couldn’t help myself.

“Don’t you wish people would learn to read English?” I said to David from the Dominican Republic.

David from the Dominican Republic laughed out loud and nodded as he gave me and Elias a push down the slide.

Hope in a Fortune Cookie

So, I’m sitting there with my supervisor having just spent quite a bit of time talking about my anxiety over moving into a new job, confusion over past conflicts, frustration over not being able to influence change and growth the way I had envisioned it.

As we are winding down our supervisory meeting, I open my fortune cookie.

“Your leadership qualities will shine soon.”

We laughed. I still have the fortune because it gave me hope in a funny, fortune cookie, God’s timing kind of way. (I also still have the fortune my husband opened 16 years ago when he came over for dinner while we were just getting to know each other. It read: “You or a close friend will be married within a year.” YES!)

Have you ever kept a fortune? What did it say and why did you keep it? My youngest collects them. At last count he had 60+. That’s a lot of fortune cookies.

Three Magnets


Kathy KEYS


My dear friend Emily took my magnets off of the soundboard at our “old church” when she and her family left.

We left months before Emily’s family, and only after much hand-wringing and praying and waiting and discerning. When God gave us the green light to leave there was no turning back – kind of like a fire alarm. You don’t go back to grab your belongings. So, my magnets sat on the soundboard.

When Emily left she took her magnets and mine, and then on a bench at the local mall she gave me her magnets for safe-keeping and she kept mine. We agreed that when the other person landed in a church and was worshipping God in the context of a church community – whether or not it was on the worship team – we would return the magnets.

Emily is still waiting and healing.

I thought I was still waiting. I’m definitely still healing. But as Emily put it, “You’re leading worship, Kath. I think that’s landing.”


Kathy KEYS