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.

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?

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.

 

 

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?

 

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 Talk” – Part 2

Several years ago it was time to have part 1 of “The Talk” with my daughter. Since then she and I have regrouped to talk a little more about sex and sexuality, as well as God’s gift of sexuality and intention for sex, love and marriage and Hollywood’s version. It’s an open conversation that we started in 5th grade, before the school health presentation, because I have control issues and wanted her to hear the information from me first.

This year was Peter’s turn to start the conversation with Corban. I was hoping the conversation would take place first thing this year, but I was reminded that before we began to talk honestly and openly about sex we would have to undo some of our harmless lies.

Kathy: Honey, when are you going to have “The Talk” with Corban?

Peter: Well, I was thinking we should start out with the Tooth Fairy.

Kathy: Oh. Shoot.

…at least a month later…

Kathy: Honey, how about “The Talk”?

Peter: Well, what about Santa?

Kathy: You couldn’t just take care of Santa when you took care of the Tooth Fairy?

Peter: Honey, that’s a lot in one talk. Too traumatic.

…another month or so…

Kathy: Well, how did it go?

Peter: Well, Corban’s response was, “Dad, why do we have to talk about grown-up stuff?”

The “grown-up stuff” he hears today at school will be no surprise. Corban mentioned last night that today’s half-day schedule involved a talk on puberty – imagine a 10-year-old boy speaking with a touch of disdain and rolling his eyes. Honestly, there is tiny, tiny part of my Mommy heart that is relieved that Corban isn’t in a rush to grow up. I saw (and continue to see) more of that in Bethany and her female friends, especially as it relates to their bodies – how they dress and look.

But it’s time. It’s time to start talking openly and honestly as best as we can, as appropriately as we can. Peter and Corban, just like Bethany and I did years ago, have begun what we hope and pray will be a lifelong conversation that starts with “grown-up stuff” and never ends.

Adventures in Parenting and Life 101 Because I’m Always Learning: Scheduling

This morning was set aside to calendar.  Yes, calendar as in the verb in relationship to the noun form. Me, my latte and my calendars cozied up now that my iCal and iPhone is synced with a Google calendar (we are a cross-computer platform family where PC and Mac must lovingly and painstakingly co-exist in forced harmony) for a morning of new events, mapping out future childcare needs and plans for cloning when two parents and three children are supposed to be at different places at the same time.

I’m certain that my parents had some method to their madness, but it really wasn’t quite as full and weighty as what we/I make life out to be now. My parents didn’t have the money to afford all of the activities – tae kwon do, magic class, owl pellets class, ballet class, pointe class, modern dance class – that fill up my evenings and weekends. The priorities were school and church and anything beyond that was gravy. We took Korean language classes, which I think were free through the church and then priceless when we stopped going to a class and my mother would simply buy the books, make photocopies and make us do the worksheets during the summer months, and piano lessons, which for me gave way to a few years of flute lessons. There was little space, money or felt need for summer camp, swimming lessons or sports camp because for many years we were latch-key kids who learned to float well after I had mastered my multiplications tables and long division and yet learned early on that competitive sports were not in our future.

My parents didn’t know they needed to carry around their digital calendars. I remember my mom having a small paper organizer and the house always had free calendars from the bank, back when banks gave customers toasters, calendars and lollipops, and the Korean grocery store, which still give out free calendars. But they also didn’t know what we weren’t getting to do because they were too busy trying fairly successfully to provide for us more than they had had.

These days in my affluent suburban existence I can parent through my issues – swimming lessons because dammit my kids will be stronger swimmers than I am and tae kwon do or dance classes and the occasional tennis or golf lesson because life is too short to not have a brief introduction to a “life long sport” they can carry into their retirement years.

I am not alone in my angst. The bar is higher and more competitive for college, and at Bethany’s high school orientation I began to hyperventilate (maybe it was those crazy strobe lights and lasers during the slideshow) at all that the “average” kid has to do – academics and extra-curricular – to be college-worthy. No study hall so she can get in an extra elective, but how will she manage the course load with her classes if she keeps up with dance or takes on other extra-curriculars? Or keep the study hall so she has extra time during the day to get the extra work done, but will her overall academic course load be enough? The calendar feels heavier just thinking about it.

At least she’s never heard the “Why don’t you have all A’s? Why isn’t this B+ or A- an A” talk.

And it’s not even just the parenting part of scheduling. Have you ever watched a group of adult friends try to schedule a night out or an extended family try to plan a trip together? My girlfriends and I have been talking about celebrating our 40th birthdays at some spa, but the first round of e-mails were rather amusing. We are very, very busy (but so help me if it means celebrating after we all turn 40 we are going to do this!).

I’m grateful to be alive, deeply grateful for the opportunities, access, ability to have and do so much but sometimes it feels a little out of control.

For awhile we had a rule: each kid was limited to one activity. But then we started fudging our way around that one with band because technically it was at the school, during and after school so it didn’t feel completely like an extra activity. And then Bethany made the poms squad, which was related to her dance classes. And then youth group/confirmation/Wednesday night Kids’ Club was extra but also important so we made room. And so on, and so on, and so on. I was hoping my youngest would try baseball, mainly so I could hang out with the other moms during practices and games, but he wanted no part in another activity no matter how much he could learn from being on a team sport. Sometimes, our kids are so incredibly wise.

Everyone has a system. Mine has evolved over the years as DINKs became parents of one, two and then three. My trusty Franklin Planner gave way to copying everything onto a wipe board. Now I am completely electronic with five color coordinated calendars that Peter and I can now sync online relatively seamlessly. A printed copy goes on the fridge so the kids can check to see if a sleepover will conflict with a family event.

So how do you get through it? How do you manage and schedule your time and, if you have a family, your family’s and family time so that everyone doesn’t need a clone and resent you?

If You Only Had Four Years Left With Her

My daughter and I went shopping last night for her 8th grade graduation/confirmation dress. She was looking for fun, colorful and sparkly, and I was looking for my little girl.

I felt a bit scatter-brained, trying to focus on dress-shopping. Instead my mind kept racing ahead to high school and high school graduation, and then I found myself thinking about the next four years differently. Yes, academics and extracurriculars came to mind. And friends, boyfriends, and all the drama that comes along with high school came to mind. And college prep, exams, essays and application fees came to mind.

But what I kept going back to was that I might only have four years left.

When I left home for my freshman year at Northwestern, I had no idea that I would never really live at home again. I guess I thought that coming home for a few weeks in the summer meant living at home, but I didn’t factor in the internships, summer jobs and college friends who lived all over the country would change my time at home. And then I suppose I always kept the option of moving back home if there was a job change, etc. I never thought I would go from my first apartment and job to marriage and my first home. I always thought I’d go back home, I guess.

When I graduated I essentially moved from my apartment on campus to an apartment in Green Bay, WI. Some of my things stayed at my parents’ home for years, but eventually all of my personal belongings made their way in boxes and bags and large vehicles to wherever I was living. All three kids have read or been read to from my copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. My daughter’s jewelry and makeup sit atop my childhood dresser. Her books and magazines are on my old desk.

As far as I’m concerned, the job of parenting won’t end. In Asian culture, your parents continue to play a strong, active role in your adult life until you or your parents die. In America, you’re an adult and on your own at 18. At least, that’s how I remember the difference. In my Asian American existence, the influence of parents and ultimately of culture is somewhere in the tension of the two sometimes polar opposite views.

Which is why I keep thinking about the next four years, wanting to be a combination of guide/cheerleader/coach/drill sergeant having had a driver’s seat view of the transition from high school to college with parents who did their very best but didn’t know the systems or even what to expect. We picked colleges based on reputation. I did one college visit alone – my interview at NU. We talked about the future, but I guess we never talked about home.

So I’m thinking about home, and how my daughter will always be welcome here in this house, my home, but sooner than either of us may think or know or want this may not be her home. I’m thinking about how to love my daughter, to delight in her and her drama, and to simultaneously trust God and steward the gift of parenting well because we may only have four years left to fold laundry together while watching some guilty pleasure on tv, harvest tomatoes and lettuce, wash cars and paint walls, raid my closet when I’m out of town and be home together in this way.

She tried on a nice pink dress that looked better on her than it did on the hanger, but it wasn’t the dress. I half-jokingly suggested she wear one of the flower girl/junior bridesmaid dresses she wore a few years ago, and she looked at me with that look. She’s not a little girl anymore, but we have four years together at home and at all the places we will be together and apart to discover the young woman she is becoming.