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.

This Chink is Angry

My son has been bullied and now he is so angry. And I am heartbroken.

I have some wonderful childhood memories – family road trips, my favorite dress, walking to the corner grocer to buy candy, the sound of Dad playing his harmonica to wake us up in the morning, the smell of a day’s worth of Mom and Grandma’s cooking.

But I also have vivid memories of being the first Asian American in the suburban school district we moved to. I remember Gwen, who later became a good grade school friend, asking me why my nose was so flat and my eyes were so weird. I remember being bullied, walking home with my sister trying to ignore the boys and girls following us spewing awful words and threats. I remember being on the bus when a few kids thought it would be funny and original to call me a chink and gook and tell me to go back home to the rice fields. Don’t you think that if I could be in the safety of my home, away from all you idiots, I would go home?  I remember one time “retaliating” by screaming at them all the profanities and mean words I could string together…in Korean. It made me feel powerful. I could say to their face anything I wanted with no consequences.

But there were consequences. I grew up actually feeling rather powerless. I did not have a voice, at least not one that others could understand. And now as an adult, I find myself in situations where I think I’ve said what I meant, repeated myself, and then raise my voice with words and tone that clearly articulate and express my anger and frustration.

So it breaks my heart to know that my son has suffered deeply at the hands of a bully. We’re walking through this together with him, but it’s so hard. I have to remember that when he vents at me, he’s not really venting about me. He’s venting. He’s angry.

I’m angry. I’m angry with myself that I didn’t listen to my gut when things started to change with him. I’m angry that the school communicated to me that things had improved. I’m angry that the Evil One continues to attack our hearts and souls into believing lies about ourselves and others.

Lord have mercy.

Crabby pants

I’ll rarely be accused of eternal optimism. It’s just not in my genes. But every morning I wake up expecting great things. Not things like “today I’ll win the lottery” but more like “today my children will know they are loved by me”.

Well, let’s just say I’m hoping tomorrow goes better.

My idealized memories of summer include fresh tomatoes and strawberries from the garden and hours of roaming the neighborhood on my bike. My parents both worked full time, and there was little time or money to shuttle me and my sister from day camp to tennis lessons. Summers meant completing Korean language worksheets my mother would copy and assign to us, watching WFLD-ch 32 for cartoons, reading, drawing, arguing with my sister, and staying out of trouble. There were days when my sister and I left the house in the morning and didn’t return until dinner.

But summer for my kids has been a tumultuous mix of games of “Life” or “Sorry” with the kids (literally and figuratively), one delightful afternoon at the Botanic Garden, and many mornings and afternoons of dragging the kids to swimming lessons, tennis lessons and tae kwon do.

The lessons are an example of parenting out of my own personal issues. I learned to swim in the 4th grade on a family road trip to Walt Disney World. I’ve never been fully comfortable in the water. I want my kids to be more comfortable in the water. I also never picked up a tennis racquet until high school gym. Let’s just say it was rather humiliating. I want to help my children avoid gym class humiliation. And the tae kwon do thing was simply a result of Corban and then Elias wearing us down with their requests to try the culturally-relevant martial art.

So, instead of blissfully memorable summer days by the pool, riding bikes and taking fun excursions, we are having the summer of Crabby Pants. Some days I am wearing the pants. Some days it’s Bethany or Corban or Elias or some volatile combination.

It’s rather frustrating and confusing knowing that having time to spend at home with the kids is one of the very things my immigrant parents worked so hard to give me a chance at having this “easier” life. So, why am I and the kids so crabby? Surely it’s not just because of video games and high-def television.

What are you all doing to keep this from being the summer of Crabby Pants?