Losing a Pet

 

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Her name was Hanil (하늘). In Korean, it means “sky.” She was a Shih Tzu, which in Chinese, I imagine means “Sits on You.” She loved to sit on me. If I was on the couch, she was on the couch; if I was in bed, she was on my foot mat. Before she got sick, she would try with grunty zeal to jump up on the couch or bed. She followed me around the house and barked if I closed the bathroom door. She followed only me on dog walks. She needed no leash, because she never strayed from my feet. When we drove, she would jump across the dead man’s zone of used cups and chocolate wrappers in the elbow console just to get to my warm lap. She was brown and white with big black cataract eyes. She used to roll and rub all over my scattered clothes trying to absorb the smell. She loved me and I loved her back.

Hanil was fifteen when she moved into our new apartment this March. Jordan’s mom couldn’t take care of three dogs alone, so Hanil came to live with us. She got along with the two boys, Hershey and Alvin, but used to try to eat their food if they were too slow to the bowl. She loved food. She ate in gulps. She ate everything you put in front of her. She had recently gotten mouth surgery to fix a broken jaw. Now, all her food had to be soaked in water to allow it to soften because chewing was no longer an option. She still ate well for a while. Then, when she stopped voluntarily eating, we had to feed her with a small syringe. Jordan would cook vegetables, eggs, and meat, then blend them into a healthy slurry. I’d hold her head tight as Jordan tried to slyly sneak the food into her growling maw. We knew she was really sick if she didn’t want to eat.

She got sick in the kidneys and used to pee almost hourly on the tiled bathroom floor so we could wash it down the drain. I’d hear her little feet with overgrown toenails clicking her way on the hardwood floors to the bathroom. We’d have to wipe up her feet after to prevent pee prints, and that includes the midnight hours. She was so sick and could barely jump up the raised step out of the bathroom. I’d give her a little push from her belly.

The vet said she had very little chance to live because of how far along the kidney disease was. We took her for a last trip to the beach. She did okay with the heat of the day and chill of night and relished the chance to sit on my lap for extended sessions of Korean weekend traffic. I complained about the traffic, but should have just enjoyed the lap time. We don’t always realize the impermanence of life while stuck in traffic. When we got home, I researched the internet and found a cocktail of Azodyl, kidney purifier, and vitamins B & C could help. After one day of treatment, her faced perked up, her step got bouncier, she started eating again. She still looked old, but was acting young. We got our hopes up.

I ordered another three-month supply of everything, since she was doing so well, I could save on the shipping. The hot summer days and humid nights passed as she snoozed in the A/C, she slept by my bed, sat on my lap for preseason football, we went to the park, we walked at night, she barked for me to open the bathroom door, and things seemed normal.

The disease was stronger than the medicine. On Thursday night, I took her out for a moonlight walk. She used to keep up with me, only stopping to pee or poop. This time, her head was down and she was just going through the motions, a sort of mechanical walk. She wasn’t sniffing the bushes or wandering around, she was just trying to keep up. She didn’t pee or poop. I picked her up, rested her on my arm, she wrapped her front paws around my wrist and we went inside.

Friday morning, I’m rushing around after walking the boy dogs, brushing my teeth, styling hair, drinking coffee, taking morning pills, eating yogurt and getting dressed in my daily rush of daybreak. Hanil usually followed me from task to task. That day, she only made it to my closet to say good morning before laboring back to her bed on top of my workout shorts.

At work, I got a message that Hanil was very sick and needed to go to the hospital. She’d been to the hospital a few times before, got an IV drip and was released. Cautiously optimistic, I went to my Friday night work dinner with all the teachers, but left early to try get to the hospital. Hanil was resting.

Saturday afternoon, we got to the vet clinic after a big pizza lunch. It was clear something was different. Her head didn’t leave the pillow when I touched her. Her back didn’t arch when I rubbed between her shoulder blades. She was very still save for breathing.

We sat for a few hours beside her little cage. I was under the impression she was going to get better again, so we went upstairs to hit golf balls at the fenced driving range to relieve some stress. Later, I took Hershey and Alvin, who had been patiently waiting in the parking garage all day, out of the car for their night walk. I got slightly lost meandering thoughtlessly, thinking of the little pup’s life with us. I thought of how, years ago, when Jordan and I were first dating, Hanil sat with me, creating a calming influence for me in a strange new house. I remembered, during my interview for James’ TV show, Hanil sat with me on camera, giving my nervous hands something to do. I thought of all the naps I’d taken with her as an armrest. Basically, if I was in her vicinity, she was next to me. She’d given her love, affection and attention to me constantly. That’s the thing with love from pets, it’s always there, so you think it will always be there. I got back to the clinic around 22:00. Jordan managed to get us a private room. Hanil was still hooked up to the machines and randomly twitching from the ammonia poisoning that was now soaking her insides. The odor was pungent and upsetting.

An hour passed, I had to move the car out of the garage and feed the dogs dinner. Moments later, I got an urgent call beset by panic. “Come in, Hurry!” The mind doesn’t prepare you for death’s horrorshow. Hanil was receiving CPR and in the process, her eye had nearly burst out of its socket, her white tongue hung listlessly out of her sad jaw and they were pressing upon her chest in a brutal, rhythmic pulse. I exclaimed curses and begged them to stop. The last few minutes were terrible as I waited for someone to translate to me what happened. But, I knew.

Back in the little private room, we wrapped her in a blanket and sat sobbing. I wanted this terrible day to end, so we began the 70-minute journey to World Pet, a crematorium near the ocean. In the countryside, crying and confused, Jordan asked, “Where is she now?” I began a sentence when from our right, out of the cornfield, a meter-wide wing span swooped in front of the car, forcing us to brake in terror amid our stunned screams. It was a beautiful owl. We cried and trembled in fear before imagining a wonderful thought. It was our hope than Hanil traded in her sub-par eyes through re-incarnation for the animal kingdom’s best.

World Pet had a nice, clean candlelit altar, incense hung in the air. The man brought us a small box into which we placed a flower and her body. A long, lugubrious half hour later, we had a tiny urn and box which read “Hanil is in the origin of the soul. September 11, 2016.” The general burden of that date was not lost on me as we exited to the sound of deep rolling thunder. There was distant lightning as a misty rain fell. The rain fell harder as we drove away. It stopped suspiciously quickly after we mentioned how it felt like Hanil was crying with us, and the road was dry the rest of the way home.

Our little apartment was full of painful reminders: Tupperware full of blended foods, medicines and syringes scattered on the table, mesh shorts piled in a cozy circle beside my side of the bed, wet tissue for cleaning up accidents. I was home, and finally able to cry, unabated into my pillow.

The sun rose in a gleaming yellow flood upon our living room. We hugged and stared the distant gaze of loss that all pet owners feel at some point. We whimpered in sadness and tried to assure ourselves of her good life. We grieved and thanked her for her love. We wondered if she heard.

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“I went to a fight the other night, and a hockey game broke out.” –Rodney Dangerfield

            In the late spring, as cherry blossoms fall, piling into fragrant fluffs of street detritus, and the Celsius rises, thoughts wander into the casual, carefree realm of summer loving, beach time and sticky nights with sweating mugs of cold beer. Some of us are preparing holidays among tranquil, azure blue waters and overpriced fusion food. College kids are looking for pointless summer jobs, teachers are counting the days until finals, and baby ducks follow mama in that amazingly cute waddle toward the pond. That pond, only 6 months ago, was frozen in a sheet of glass from previous nights of sub zero temperatures. And in those brief moments, those fleeting moments of winter daylight, those short-lived days before the snow covers the ice, young children of the north live out hockey fantasies.

            I remember my pond. It was actually a canal. It was dug over a century ago by horses, mules and plows to aid river traffic along the Schuylkill River. It’s only four feet deep and 20 feet wide, but miles long. I remember the crunch as I stepped onto the ice and made first tracks. I remember pickup games at dusk with bruised shinbones. I remember skating in a seemingly endless straight line with my Dad, passing the puck back and forth. I remember the bitter wind cutting through my scarf. I remember the smoke rising from tiny nearby chimneys and the smell of frost mixed with dinner. I remember seeing little, cold fish swimming below the clear ice. I remember practicing slap shots on a brick wall. Free ice time is a beautiful thing.

            I also remember my high school days playing in front of my alcohol-lubricated friends on Friday nights. We would come out to a Guns N’ Roses song and circle the ice anticipating a win. It was a great feeling. I was just a skinny kid who wanted to smash people, but usually ended up on the losing end. We were a great team and used to enact the charity rule of stopping the game when winning by more than ten goals quite often. We made it to the final game played in the Philadelphia Flyers home arena. It was essentially empty, but the expansiveness was palpable. I knew I was skating on the same ice as those heroes of Philly­—the Broad Street Bullies, the Legion of Doom and Ronnie Hextall. I didn’t play too much, but I did have one open shot but it sailed wide of the net, much like Emilio Estevez’ in The Mighty Ducks. We lost by one goal. It doesn’t haunt me as much as, say, Uncle Rico’s 1982 state championship game, but alas, sports provide heartbreak as well as joy.

            Ice hockey is the basketball of the frozen north. Granted, there’s more equipment. You need a stick, skates, gloves, puck and ice, but it’s the favored game of winter for anyone without the finesse required for B-ball. I hate to compare basketball to hockey, but they are the two major winter sports. One difference, as referenced above, is that hockey isn’t only an indoor sport in the winter months. Basketball has the high scoring, fancy dribbling and slam-dunks. Hockey has 100mph slap shots, delicate stickhandling and one-timers.

            I understand people who enjoy round ball and other athletic endeavors, but it’s not a debate for me. Hockey is the best sport. And, don’t get me wrong; I love all sports, but none more than playing with the puck. We’re talking about the fastest human propelled sport. It’s got sticks and blades, slashing and roughing, tripping and hooking. It’s a sport that has the tiniest “ball” that must get into the tiniest net guarded by the goaltender with the biggest pads. Fighting is allowed and sometimes encouraged. It takes shit talking out of the equation. Drop the gloves if you got a problem. Sure, Ray Lewis is a scary man and talks a big, nasty game, but wouldn’t you like to see that giant offensive tackle grip him up and just put a fist through his face once? Or maybe if someone hits Tom Brady too late and the small, street-tough running back just jacks up that free safety. And wouldn’t you enjoy seeing LeBron give Kobe a beat down; or vice versa? Men can handle things like gentlemen instead of running their big mouths with juvenile pushing. You don’t insult someone in a bar and hide behind the helmet or the referee of life. It’s real. It’s too real sometimes. Do you know any sport where people have cut their carotid artery during a game? Well, it happened twice in hockey. The videos are scary. Do you know any sport where every team member grows a beard during the playoffs? It happens in hockey, and by June, it’s a rink full of grizzled, sometimes toothless, battered men playing for pride and that all too beautiful trophy—the Stanley Cup. It’s the oldest trophy of the four major sports, having been commissioned in 1892 by Lord Stanley, a viceroy of the Queen of England.

            In soccer, a good goalie can change a game; in hockey, a good goalie can dominate a game. Some may complain this is a check against the sport that one person can take over a game, but if you have watched some of the clinics put on by previous Cup winners, you might be able to appreciate their cheetah hand speed and eagle eye awareness.

            This playoff season was really exciting to me. It was a championship of two of the Original 6 hockey teams. Both teams played with guts, passion and tenacity. Patrice Bergeron played the last game with a punctured lung, broken ribs and a separated shoulder. Andrew Shaw took a puck to the face and bled through his scabs the entirety of the game. It’s hard to debate about hockey players’ toughness. They are well known for facial lesions, missing teeth and great hair. Although hockey has changed from the gentleman’s game of straight bladed sticks and helmet-less goalies into the deliriously fast paced game of 200-pound agile behemoths, it still possesses the grit and glory of the old days. “Old-time hockey.”

            Before each game of the Finals, I got goose bumps as they sang the national anthem. But, I wondered, since only a handful of players are American, do they even enjoy that spectacle of song, or do they just hum AC/DC in their head until it’s over? That’s another thing. Hockey is a worldwide sport. The finals between Boston and Chicago had seven different countries represented. And nobody can deny the beauty of a good hockey name: Johnny Boychuk, Niklas Kjalmarsson, Jaromir Jagr, Zdeno Chara, or the great old names of: Jeff Beukeboom, Zarley Zalapski, Darius Kasparitus or Miroslav Satan. Whether it be the honeyed tone of a good Quebecois surname like: Lafleur or Lemieux, or the repeated consonants of the Czech Republic like: Roman Hamrlik, or the loveliness of sounding Russian just by saying the names: Alexander Ovechkin or Vladimir Konstantinov, hockey fans enjoy the linguistic allure of these possible line combinations.

            Hockey has raised me. Hockey was my opportunity to spend time with friends, exercise, hit people without getting in trouble, learn dedication through practice and feel the thrill of putting the puck in the back of the net. Hockey also gave me cherished memories with my father. Early mornings at a freezing rink; greasy meals after a game; locker rooms laughs; watching the Flyers on winter evenings with a glowing fire; or just talking about playing as we’d drive in “the truck” are things I remember well. Men need sports.

Remembering New Jersey in Korea

It’s no surprise that many of my blogs of reminiscing begin with: “When I was a kid at the Jersey Shore.” It was and remains a magical place for our family. There is a wide, off-white sandy beach, a small downtown with ice cream shops, miniature golf, a small arcade, a movie theater, and even a boardwalk for romantic post pizza strolls. That’s not even to mention the Sabia/Sedlacek compound. We have the “dock on the bay” complete with boats and jetskis, railings and pilings for karate kid bay jumps—a semi-private haven for all our tomfoolery. It made for great vacations. So many memories are burned into my brain from that 7-mile island. It could be that I made those robust memories before I started my drinking decade, but that’s a separate discussion. I remember the time John Dinan and I found a GameBoy in a random bathroom and managed to peacefully share it all summer like the best friends we were. I remember A.J. wanting to crab all weekend long. I remember when we made shows, haunted houses, concerts or games with the Freeds. I remember climbing the walls of the upstairs house with my sister. I remember the blissful look of calm upon all the visitors when we’d sit out on the concrete slab of a patio, amidst the radiantly setting sun, after a huge, delicious dinner, with a citronella candle burning in the middle of the table, while my Dad told raunchy stories and worries wandered away. I remember family that has passed and friends that have gone their way sitting together in those dusky hours and I’m amazed at the beauty and love present in life and loss. We can’t take it with us, we can’t make a moment last forever, we can’t re-live our good times. But sometimes, a smile is brought to our face from remembering those that have touched our lives in the past.

I am never far from those serene Avalon summers in my heart, and recently, I was reminded of a classic south Jersey tradition—the yearly trip to the Wildwood waterslides with the Freeds. Once a year, sometime in August, the two families formed a conglomerate of 12 maniacs, ready to squeeze an entire week of fun into 6 hours. Four parents and eight children, would head to the sleazy part of town in the chill of the 8am hour to ride the slides. Some slides’ names remain stuck in my head, “Red Tornado, Shotgun Falls, Rocket Raft Run…” It was a always a great day of running up stairs, waiting in line, shivering in the shade of the dawn and of course, a few water activities. We’d eat a big greasy pizza afterwards, and if we were very lucky, we’d even ride the rollercoasters a few times before leaving, prune-handed and hair crunchy with chlorine.

A few weeks ago, during the Chinese New Year’s vacation, I went to the waterslides at Caribbean Bay, part of the Everland Resort complex, about an hour south of Seoul. Yes, it was February and bitterly cold, but since Koreans only swim outside during the last two weeks of July and the first two weeks of August, most of their pools are covered. It was a large complex of faux shipwrecks, small child slides, wave pools and about 25 chairs for the 900 people there. In Korean fashion, there was a great adult area of relaxing saunas and hot tubs, and an abundance of child-friendly pools. There were also four rather large adult water slides. Unlike the kitschy names of American waterparks, they were called (again in true Korean fashion) Slide #1,2,3,4. One was exceptionally fast and left water jammed beside my cerebellum, another was a blacked out, two person tube ride and very fun. The complex also included several hot tubs outside. They were steaming like lobster pots. My ladyfriend and I made a run for it and nearly jumped in from the sting of Siberian winds upon naked flesh. We met a nice group from Taiwan and we chatted about Taiwanese food, learning Mandarin, and how good the hot water felt. A western face in Asia always prompts discussion, a way to practice English.

I kept trying to find a difference between the Korean and American waterparks, and was left continually stumped. They both have hot and not hot people. They both have clean chlorinated water, expensive fried food for sale, bad floral bathing suits and cover-ups and muscular lifeguards frustrated by the lack of good mirrors. I suppose I’ll never get over the Korean way of wearing t-shirts and sweaters at the beach/waterparks, but then I remembered fat kids do that in America too. Perhaps we’re not so different after all.

We had a great time, ate overpriced donkasu in our bathing suits and left waterlogged and sleepy. There was no traffic on the way back to Seoul, and the weekend was finished. Three nights of delicious BBQ dinners, fish and kimchi for breakfast and another weekend of Korean overdose had finished.

Love and the Jersey Shore

Love is all around us on Valentine’s Day; and not the love that most of us experience. Not the absolute love from family; not the productive love of a partner; not even the dependable love of a pet. We are exposed to the Hallmark version of love. The version of love that can be quantified through expensive jewelry, fancy chocolates, and effusive gift cards. It’s another great idea destroyed by commercialism. Valentine’s probably began with one caveman bringing his wife a big rabbit followed by a hug and kiss. Then Dr. Showoff caveman brought home a deer and flowers, and the competition of gossiping girlfriends began. Christmas—a day of family gatherings turned into must-have items; Thanksgiving—a day of gratefulness warped into a giant carb feast to prepare for the insanity of the approaching Black Friday. Although these holidays of excess and spending money give a modicum of order and idealized sequences to the festivals, it doesn’t change the loss of purpose. St. Valentine paid his life to marry young Christian couples in a pagan world. He believed in uniting the love that finds a way to be together. He believed in the love that those Valentine’s cards aspire to bestow, but fall short mumbling in smarm and stumbling in schmaltz.

While people are falling in love all the time, love is also falling apart somewhere at the same time. It’s the cycle. We all have felt different types of love at different times in our lives. It has been asked if it’s better to have loved and lost or never to have loved at all.  Hopefully, we have all both had and lost love to be able to answer the question for ourselves. But love is a heavy word—so, “What’s in a name?” Did we lose the lover we had, did we lose the happy times spent together, or did we lose something intangible inside ourselves. Love is only an idea, an idea that makes us act insane sometimes. Is love a necessary part of life? Must one love oneself before loving others? Does anyone admit to loving another, but loving themselves more? Is true love possible—and what is true love? Those questions are simply rhetorical, and must be answered inside your own heart.

Another bit of rhetoric from the modern world, albeit far removed from Shakespeare’s classic monologue of Juliet questioning semantics’ role in our life, is the ever so crucial knowledge of “Never fall in love at the Jersey Shore.” That was the best piece of advice those guidos and guidettes could give us; and yet three of them did fall in love and maintained the relationship throughout many of the seasons. Snooki found a docile gorilla in Jionni, J-Woww found the walking tattooed colossus of Roger, and possibly the most dysfunctional couple of all—Sammy and Ronnie, found each other the first week in the house. Those couplings left Vinnie and Pauly’s bromance to swell with their expanding biceps each week, Deena to flaunt her shoddily airbrushed tan assets and the eternally hopeless Mike “The Situation” to flounder in his own fatuity and arrogance.

I was dating a girl in 2008 (when “Jersey Shore” premiered) that hated all things and people from the Northeastern parts of the U.S. At the time, it didn’t register that if she hated everything from that area, and I came from there, that it stands to reason she hated me too. As I said, love turns you into a crazy person. She enjoyed reality TV, and I thought it looked like a hilarious way to show her the charm of New Jersey’s insouciant and ridiculous attitude. I’ve seen every episode since then. I was fascinated by the similarities of Sammy and Ronnie’s relationship to my own alternatingly adoring and unbearable one. I liked how unapologetic they were about the GTL lifestyle, and finding girls who are DTF. I went to university with guidos before that name was widely acceptable and now, perhaps complimentary. They did gel their hair to excess, wear tight t-shirts and fist pump in crowded, steamy nightclubs, but they were also intelligent, comical and sensible (mostly).

This show hit the zeitgeist of America right where it hurts, in the guilty pleasure genitals. Fans latched onto the show and therefore, it brought a hailstorm of vitriol from Italian-Americans, New Jerseyans and concerned mothers nationwide. Their anger only brought more attention to the cast and their antics and the show became MTV’s biggest hit. It was fun to watch them grow together, whereas “The Real World” got to leave after 4 strained months together. These strangers, picked to live in house, and have their lives taped, had to do it for four months, six different times. Of course, there were plenty of fights, sabotaging, backstabbing, C-blocking, clubbing, hooking up, working out and tanning. But, the reason I stayed with the show, besides being able to stare at a train wreck for 45 minutes every week, was how they actually matured throughout the run. Snooki became a responsible, sober mother-to-be, Mike became a successful recovering addict, Vinnie conquered his panic attacks, and the others all worked on their own shortcomings and problems to end the show with completely different attitudes than when they began. It turned out to be a fairly decent example of how my generation sees the world. Many of us experience the freedom and debauchery of university and are then expected to cut it cold turkey while working the 9-5 napless and without buffet dining hall meals. Some of us find our life-long lovers in college, like Sam and Ron and some find best friends, like Vin and Pauly. We all come out different people than when we entered and with memories that will never be forgotten (if they were remembered in the first place).

This show wasn’t labeled as a love show, but that’s what we saw in many episodes. We saw Ron and Sam almost kill each other, but ultimately fight through, learn to communicate and stay together. We saw two grown men able to say they love each other (with only a pinch of sarcasm). We saw a rather shallow, marginally alcoholic girl, find a man who loves her and learns to accept her wild behavior while she adjusts to life as a mature mother. Hell, even Mike found a girl who loved him, but she wanted him to love her back, and that wasn’t ever going to happen, so they broke up with benefits. It seems falling in love at the Jersey Shore isn’t so much something to avoid, but rather, something that is inevitable.

My parents met at the Jersey Shore, and they are still together after 35 years. Love finds you. Sometimes love leaves heart holes only fixed by love. Love is working together and working on being a better person and partner. Love isn’t easy, and because of that, it’s hard to say it or admit to others. Can you lose a part of yourself to be replaced by another? Would you prefer to be lucky in life and unlucky in love or vice versa? To me, love isn’t the grand gestures of candlelit dinners, lavish gifts and rote romantic motions given once a year; love is more perfectly expressed in the intricacies of accidentally holding hands, surprises based on listening and sharing selflessly. Love is subjective, incomprehensible, profound, and completely incapable of being written by strangers on a decorated card. Show love in your own way, everyday.

Mothers

Mike Myers did a strange and hilarious movie in 1993 called, So I Married an Axe Murderer. He played a lovelorn version of himself as well as his updated former SNL character: a Scottish soccer hooligan father. One of the best lines in that movie is a small rant before dinner. “Well, it’s a well known fact, Sonny Jim, that there’s a secret society of the five wealthiest people in the world, known as The Pentavirate, who run everything in the world, including the newspapers, and meet tri-annually at a secret country mansion in Colorado, known as ‘The Meadows.’” He goes on to say that among those five people is Col. Sanders of KFC fame. He hates him because of the addictive chemical present in KFC chicken that “makes you crave it fortnightly.” (Although KFC can be tasty, I think Mr. Mackenzie just never tried Chick-Fil-A, which, as I mentioned in a previous post, is the new undisputed king of fast fried chicken.)

The reason I mention this cult movie favorite of mine is because of the opening line of “It’s a well-known fact, Sonny Jim.” “It’s a well-known fact” can be skewed into opening any random opinion disguising as fact. “It’s a well-known fact that Hitler killed himself and Eva Braun only after learning that she had slept with Goebbels and Himmler in the first (and only) Nazi 3-way earlier in 1945…or…that pigs vocal cords are removed at birth to prevent them from talking to each other creating insurrection Animal Farm style.” However, for today’s purposes we will focus on the less diabolical yet still well-known fact that everybody I know is getting married and having babies. (If you are younger than 24, and don’t live in the Midwest, you have no idea what I’m talking about, but you will one day.) Let’s say I have twenty close friends and family members in their 30’s. At least 15 of them are married and many of that ¾ have a baby or are expecting one now.

It’s an exciting time for those people. Their lives are taking new shapes, shapes of spongy flesh and powdery, bald heads. Their married lives look different than their single lives too, with Bed, Bath and Beyond décor in the living room and bathroom, the classic French poster in the kitchen, matching dishtowels and a large comfy sofa. The fact of growing older is that downtime is limited and therefore it needs to be really comfortable when you get it. All I know of married life is what I can see from the outside, and the exterior good parts seem to be gaining a life-long friend with whom you are attracted to sexually and increased loungewear. (There are lots of sweatpants and hoodies going on in married homes.) The bad parts, I imagine, include enlarged and intensified responsibility, and loss of privacy. Bathroom time becomes shared, family time/holidays are doubled in length, and then babies take away the spontaneity of adult life to be replaced by the impromptu moments of baby life. There are pros and cons of single and married life. Whichever one you are currently in, you see pros of the alternative and the cons of the current very clearly.

Regardless of how you imagine your future, one thing is clear: babies are cute as hell. Babies are fun to watch, children are fun to talk to, and kids are fun to play with. The shape of life only provides a few years with which procreation is possible. It’s only natural that in my early 30’s I see the world of our carefree 20’s melt into the mortgaged, responsible and parental nature of the next decade. Those cute babies and the ego attraction of seeing something burst forth into the world created and comprised of you is quite an intriguing offer. The Facebook posts I see from new moms/dads are usually of three domains: cute, disgusting or illogical. Those small humans can find many ways to fall asleep or dress adorably, use bodily functions in funny ways and of course, say the darndest things!

Kids are not good for germophobes though. Kids touch, lick, chew, fondle and caress anything they find of interest. Those same hands and mouths will be all over you later, and you don’t want to create children with fear of intimacy because their mommy never kissed their “dirty little face.” I don’t have children, but I do teach children. Korean kids like to share food due to the cultural method of eating being many plates on the table shared by all. So, naturally, they want to share with the respected figure of teacher. Kids approach me with little potato sticks stuck in the webs of their fingers, half-melted Choco balls, bread ripped from a communal loaf and pre-peeled fruits. Some of the more germy aware teachers politely take the treats and put them to the side before depositing that nice gesture into the trash receptacle. I eat all they give me immediately. I need their germ resistance. It’s like eating your flu shot! Plus, all their snacks are delicious. It is something that must go away the minute you have kids: the need for clean/non-sticky hands, or at least to carry wet wipes everywhere. Kids are rewarding but demanding. The many teachers I’ve met over my 7 years in education have been a varied bunch, but a theme that is oft repeated is: “I love these kids, but I’m glad I can give them back at the end of the day.” My responsibility ends when the school day ends. It’s hard to imagine 24 hours of care and anxiety. Parents deserve the credit the kids give via hand-traced turkeys, macaroni necklaces and disproportionate family drawings.

Yesterday, after teaching a lesson, we played a game of charades. I gave Cathy, a smart girl with a Harry Potter obsession, the word ‘mother’ to act out. She did a quick gesture of a person shaking her finger and demanding something, no response. She did a quick gesture of a person stirring food in a pot, no response. She repeated the process in more outlandish fashion and got nothing from the other 6 students. Finally, I asked the crowd, “Who cooks food and yells at you?” Simultaneously and vociferously, they all leapt up, pushing tables forward and chairs hurtling backwards to the floor: “MOTHER!” They knew at once, who is that person who can both make you feel full and satisfied and then empty and disappointed.

A mother’s job is not easy, she needs to be, at different times, both adoring and chastising. Mothers keep therapists in business and artists creative. Mothers are the universal symbol of love. We’ve all seen the mama cat carrying her cubs delicately by the scruff, the mama gorilla carrying a youngling on her back, the mama whale pushing her calf to the surface for its first breath, the mama panda in her den cleaning the little ones, or the mama penguin walking 60km to puke up some fish for her fluffy little newborn. Moms are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva rolled into one. They can be the creators, the maintainers and the destroyers of a child’s world. Moms are like the coaches of the world; they get too much credit for a loss and not enough credit for a win. Moms are constantly being formed in the cycle with which they help produce. It’s a beautiful thing. I love you Mom.

 

A Return Home to Return Home

Living in a foreign country can have many feelings. There can be, in any conceivable array, a multitudinous collision of emotions: such as, boredom, freedom, homesickness, love, lust, excitement, desire, longing, scorn, derision, insight, resonance, horror, humor, confusion, or wonder. Some days, as anywhere or for anyone, are better than others. Some days are really transcendent.

Today I had a transcendent day.

Earlier in the week, I returned for a 2nd year at my small hagwon after a wonderfully relaxing and renewing month of reconnection with friends and family. I gave presents to all my coworkers and delighted in their excitement and joy to receive silly little gifts to show my appreciation for their helpfulness towards me in the previous year. 2011 was the hardest year of my life so far. Anyone who knows me knows why and it bears no repeating. But, it was also one of the most empowering years of my life too. Here it is, 2013, a new year, starting fresh with good friends and great students. Friday came and went and I was back in my groove making kids laugh and having fun myself in the process. In one 3rd grade class we discussed if parents should always trust their children and if children should always take their parents advice. They said that parents don’t know anything, a typical adolescent response. I asked, “What if they said to look both ways before crossing the street?” They responded, “No, not good advice!” I then mimed what would happen if they didn’t look before crossing and a few of them literally fell out of their seats laughing. It felt great because these guys are a smart yet hard class to teach. We all had a fun hour together.

A successful school day behind me and so I went for a walkabout in my neighborhood as it was only a few degrees below freezing tonight as opposed to the frostbite inducing temps it had been the previous few days. I had a delicious dinner, found the Korean outlet adapters I needed, got a well-deserved hour massage, bought a new Wi-Fi router, some candles and of course a big bag of tangerines. But there was something in the air tonight. Everyone seemed so happy. I saw a young vendor helping a tiny old lady in a fur vest and Hello Kitty pajama pants in a respectful manner, a middle aged lady chopping random meat and smiling, calling out friendly greetings to passersby, beautiful Korean girls wrapped up in each others arms, cradled in their oversized scarves who gave me sidelong glances before darting their eyes away and giggling together. I saw steaming dishes of dumplings, fresh fruit piled to eye level, men carrying ruby red, palm sized strawberries in Styrofoam crates and breaking each other’s balls. I bought two perfectly seasoned egg stuffed corn breads for 1$. I walked and saw the same market I had been in so many times before in a new light. I heard the same sounds and the same shoe clicks and the same bubbling pots and the same sad squid swimming listlessly in their aquariums of death. I saw the same bundled, wind-burned faces, the same discount shampoos scattered along the sidewalk in cardboard boxes, the same heated floor blankets, the same ubiquitous neon lights, but there was a distinct aura of joy mixed with contentment both inside and outside of me today. It left me wondering if what is inside of you will only naturally be manifested into the world around you wherever you are. Maybe on those sour days when things are crummy, that’s the day you forget your change at the register or trip on the curb or see the world in the ugly light with which you are projecting. It seems that I meet more people nowadays that advocate this form of living positive and accentuating the good parts of your life. Sometimes it bothers me how they can purposefully ignore the rough spots, for true reality includes all kinds of emotions.

I am a self-confessed “hater,” which means I can hate on most any thing or any person I see. It’s not that I actually despise things or people; I just don’t like idiocy, hypocrisy or insipidness. However, upon self-reflection, and finding such things within your own sphere, (albeit in small doses) it’s time to try to clean that orb from the inside. This year I will attempt to acknowledge the good things in life, recognize and eliminate the negatives, and try to follow through in the only goal of life—to feel happy (thereby spreading happiness around, the trickle down theory of glee.) I know it’s impossible to feel blissful every moment of your life, but maybe it’s better to appear that way, focusing on the affirmative and perhaps existence will fool you into a good day.

Facebook Famous

It seems with the rise to mainstream prominence of Facebook and Twitter; we see much more hyperbole in the day-to-day life of normal citizens. We often read about, “best weekend ever”, “best friends forever”, “greatest night in the history of Fort Lauderdale”, “most hilarious thing ever”, “this is amazing” et al. I believe this is not always even believed by the people who write it, but perhaps to make others believe that the author was involved in something so great, so stupendous, that not only must others hear of it, in turn feel jealous of it, but know, that since it was “the best girlfriends in the world partying in Miami for the weekend” that no one can ever top that wonderful moment. The hyperbolic nature of Facebook is to create envy, but not in negative ways. We post our vacations, our favorite relaxing moments, our family in funny situations, our life lessons, our life triumphs and ask others to revel in our glory. We ask it collectively. That is why other people’s pictures, opinions and moments appear on your page. Nobody wants anyone to miss anything they’re doing. Rarely would anyone take the time to actually click on your link to check you out, so we put it out there publically for all the friends to see simply by logging on. I don’t think it is unnatural. In fact, in the 21st century it is more natural to be laid bare and completely open in your yearning for approval and recognition than it would be to hide your feelings. We are gregarious, we are desirous of living an examined life for Plato said that anything less than that is not worth living. We use introspection balanced with external comments to search our emotional responses to the world. To be honest with yourself in the age of reality shows and celeb-worship is to know that you would probably take, if not relish for some time, the constant scrutiny and phony devotion of being the one in the camera’s flash instead of the one pushing the button. The world is changing again, as it always will. The exaggeration of daily life, and the magnification of minutiae is thrust into our faces like mall perfume samples. I wonder if the rise in depression is due to people feeling unworthy of living because they aren’t being photographed or pulled aside for interviews. Do we feel unimportant because only our family and friends care about us, as opposed to strangers worshipping us through the magazine pages or the Hollywood blockbusters? Even as I write this, I do wonder who will read it, who will appreciate it. We want to feel alive and needed, we want to leave our mark upon this world. You can now hire a company to follow you around for a night taking pictures of you paparazzi style. Strangers stop, stare and ask, “Who is that?” The search for self is a perpetual study. For some it may be answered from within, for others it is found in external acknowledgment of their existence. Business will follow demand. We demand to be noticed.