On Mother’s Day

When my grandma was dying from stroke-related causes, she was inconsolable at night. A few days after my grandfather died in the nursing home room they shared, my parents moved her home; her new resting place a hospital bed in the room that had been my gradnfather’s for years after his own stroke had severely disabled him. 

As my husband and I lay upstairs one night after my grandfather died, I could hear her cries for help and sobs. My mom had spent hours with her mother, consoling her, calming her down, but it was the middle of the night and she needed to sleep. So I took a turn. I crept down the stairs and opened the door. “Nanny,” I said. “It’s okay.” 

“Help me!” she cried, “Help!” 

“Would you like me to read to you?” I asked. A Bible was laying next to her bed. I picked it up and somehow ended up in Revelation, hoping to find something in those words to comfort her. I ended up skipping entire chapters. Revelation is not a comforting book. 

“Let’s sing some songs,” I told her. 

Amazing Grace. Jesus Loves Me. What a Friend We Have in Jesus. 

It’s amazing how entire verses were stored in my memory. I sang and sang as she quieted down. She was comforted. 

Hours went by. I sang. I stopped, and tried reading again from the Bible. I couldn’t read anything out loud without crying, not even from the Gospels. This is the book she read faithfully. This book – the reason she tithed and volunteered at church, despite her husband’s apathy to religion. Even with her faith in this book, she wasn’t sparred a devastating end to her life. 

So I sang some more. She quieted down enough to sleep, however restless, and I went back to sleep. 

A few months later, my mom called me with the news that Nanny had passed away in her sleep with her son and daughter at her side. As devastated as I was by the news,  I could not imagine a better way to die: in your sleep, surrounded by your children in your own home. 

It should have been no surprise that when I had my first son, I sang these familiar, comforting songs at bedtime, songs I knew the words to, songs that meant something to me and my family history: Jesus Loves Me, Amazing Grace, What a Friend We Have on Jesus. 

There are still days that I don’t believe any of it, that a loving God would not have allowed my grandmother to suffer the way she did. By I am certain of this: when I die, I hope I am with my children and grandchildren and that they are singing to me. 


Your Most Important Hair Moment

I’ve been inspired by C. Jane Kendrick, a favorite blogger of mine, to write for 8 minutes based on prompts from writer Ann Dee Ellis. Today’s topic: Important Hair Moments.

I have a dirty little secret: that hair you see in my wedding photos? It’s not my real hair color. Many years prior to my wedding, I started getting low-lights and highlights in my hair. I absolutely loved the way it looked, but about a year before the wedding, I stopped getting my hair colored because 1) it was expensive and 2) I really wanted my natural color to be on display for my wedding. My hair doesn’t grow very fast, so I had to decide if I wanted my stylist to dye my hair all over in a color that was close to my natural color, or figure out a hair style that covered the fact that I had four-inch roots. I dyed my hair. I really liked the color and I think I look pretty in wedding photos, but that’s not my hair color.

I am very vain about my hair color. I love it. I call it auburn. But I absolutely hate the texture of my hair. When I was 10 or 11, I had hair down to the middle of my back, and I begged and begged my mom to let me cut it. She finally gave in, and I distinctly remember the Chinese ladies in the hair salon in Hong Kong making audible gasps of horror as the barber chopped it off. I now had a big, poofy auburn-colored afro, and not in a good way. You see, I have thick hair that’s sometimes wavy, sometimes curly, and in the humidity of Hong Kong, it was extra big.

When I met my husband, I had those aforementioned low-lights and highlights, and he still asks me when I’m going to get those again. And then I tell him how much it costs to maintain and his jaw drops and he shakes his head, and then forgets and asks me a few months later. When we met, I also straightened my hair every day and in the dry heat of Eastern Washington, my hair was beautiful. In Utah, I had a cute bob and my hair thrived in that climate – never big, straight if I wanted, and I loved it.

And then I moved back to the PNW, but this time to the colder, rainier, more humid part of the PNW and my previously lovely hair curled again. I’ve tried to fight it, but now I have two kids, and I’ve given up trying to make my wavy hair straight. According to my hair dresser, hair changes due to hormones are very common, so not only did I move to a different climate, I had another child, and thanks to pregnancy hormones, I still have little sprouts of hair springing from my scalp that even long bangs don’t hide.

My youngest is blonde, just like I was as a baby. When my parents took the three of us to Korea when we were little, we were all blonde, and people repeatedly stroked our heads, marveling at these blonde foreigners. My hair is no longer a marvel, just another part of me that I try not to hate.


Where’s the Pause Button?

As we rapidly approach Junior’s first birthday, I find myself wishing for a pause button, especially because I realize that next fall, Future President will start kindergarten and the two brothers, who have become best friends, will no longer get to hang out together all day, every day.

Yesterday in the car, I couldn’t stop laughing because of the conversation I was having with Future President. He had informed me that Sally and Lightning were going to have a wedding party that night, but he would have to take the party outside because he didn’t want the baby to ruin the party. Then he asked me what happens at a wedding party, so I described our wedding and the reception afterward. His only response: “Daddy danced?!?”

Then I asked him if he was going to get married. “Not until I’m 10 or 11,” he said. “I hope my Nanny and PopPop are alive when I get married to a mommy.” It was too cute, there was no way I was going to try to explain the difference between a mommy and a wife.

Future President still carries a stuffed animal with him on the playground. He loves wearing zip up footie pajamas. He dances and shows off for his brother, and they can spend at least 15 minutes making babbling noises at each other, getting noisier and noisier after each mimic. After bed time, I’ll peek into their rooms: Junior is likely in a strange sleeping position, bent in two at the waist, one hand sticking out of the crib rails; Future President might be making shadows on the wall with his flashlight, or reading a Playmobil catalog, and I’ll just stand in the door way watching them, wishing that their innocence and joy last forever.

A Rooftop Pool (is Not as Fancy as it Sounds)

I don’t remember how many stairs there were from the 12th floor, where I went to school in a two-room, multi-grade classroom, but I can tell you that it took less than 30 seconds to bound out of the classroom and up those stairs to the roof. 

The roof was all concrete. I’m surprised more of us didn’t have permanent scars on our knees and elbows from falling on that concrete roof. One of the best features was the rooftop pool, a square, shallow pool that was the perfect depth for little kids. And in the awful summer heat and humidity of Hong Kong, it was the perfect place to take a dip. 

But what a temptation. At recess we would sometimes come to the roof to swing and run, ignoring the flapping laundry that was drying on the lines. At recess we were not allowed in the pool. This didn’t stop some of my friends from pushing the envelope and testing our teacher’s patience. Because is a foot or two in the water “going in”? 

The roof was a great place to watch Chinese New Year fireworks, eat potluck and picnics and celebrate birthdays. From the roof you could see so much of the city, and now that I’m an adult, I realize how lucky I was to live above the chaos and crowds. The compound really was an oasis. 

Besides swimming in the pool, my favorite part of the roof was the swings. I would pump my legs as hard as I could and swing so high I felt like my feet might touch the clouds. 

The Story Begins with the Setting

Dear Future President and Junior,

When I tell you that I grew up in Hong Kong, you probably don’t really know what that means, except that it is a place far, far away from here. So today I want to tell you about where I lived.

The compound where I grew up was on a steep hill – if I was lucky, I’d take a taxi or ride in my family’s car up the hill, but often I would have to take a bus and the bus stop was at the bottom of the steep hill. Coming home from high school I would get hot and sweaty walking up the hill. Sometimes on my way home I’d stop at my dad’s office in the basement of the hospital to say hi and cool off in the a/c.

The compound had a six-story hospital and a 12-story apartment building. In the middle of the compound was parking spaces and a roundabout. You wouldn’t believe the amazing cars I saw parked in front of the hospital: Bentleys, Rolls Royces and Ferraris were common sights.

My favorite part of the whole compound was the guard tower. The guard tower was attached to the parking structure at the bottom of the apartment building. I spent many hours of my childhood perched atop the guard tower. It was also a favorite hiding spot during many games of Sardines. There were additional parking spaces near the guard tower that would become a kick ball field on Saturday nights. I hated kick ball, but I hated dodge ball even more.

There were two elevators in my apartment building: one for the even floors and one for the odd floors. Both elevators stopped at UG and G, parking levels where we had P.E. and Pathfinder marching practice. I spent a lot of my childhood playing here. In fact, I knocked out my front tooth on UG when I turned a corner and crashed into my friend who was riding his bike. Lucky for me the dentist was just across the street on the sixth floor of the hospital, right next to our church. I know, it’s crazy to think about.

Next time, I’ll tell you about my school and the roof where we had recess and the mountain and jungle where I played. Someday, I hope I can take you to Hong Kong. Until then, we’ll have my stories.

When I Was a Little Girl…

Me, a very, very long time ago in Hong Kong.

Me, a very, very long time ago in Hong Kong.

Future President’s favorite stories are ours: “Mommy, tell me a story about when you were a little girl,” and “Daddy, what did you play with when you were a little boy?” are his new conversation starters, especially in the car.

Yesterday I told him about how I would take the double-decker bus to the public library all by myself. He listened with rapt attention. “Tell me more stories,” he said. So I told him about my school on the 12th floor of my apartment building and the pool and swings on the roof. “How did you get there?” he asked. When I told him I took the stairs to the roof, he was baffled. “But how?!?” I told him more stories, about climbing the rope ladder up the mountain, playing in the jungle with my friends where we swung from vines and made up spy stories and played Sardines, hiding behind expensive cars.

And then it struck me: how will I ever be able to adequately describe my childhood? My husband has it easy: we currently live just a few miles from where he grew up and went to school. It’s easy to point to locations on our drive – that’s the forest where Daddy climbed trees, that’s the roof Daddy jumped off, that’s the road where Daddy fell and hurt his knee.

Of course someday I hope to take my children to Hong Kong and show them where I grew up. It will be different, of course. But in the meantime, I want to start writing down stories and pulling out old journals, because honestly I haven’t accessed those memories in a very long time. But if I try, I can transport myself back to the elevator I spent so much time playing in (it’s true!), to the car park where I fell and skinned my knee while jump roping, to the teeter-totter where I split open my chin, to the hospital cafeteria where we would visit every Thursday for haystacks and Dreyer’s ice cream.

Even if someday these stories lose their magic for my children, I want to remember everything.