Husband’s past, son’s future

I have a stepson. Or, that is, my husband has a son from his first marriage is the way I usually say it, when I do say it. And he is visiting us from Japan next month. Maybe half my friends know. As Fred gets older, I need to come to terms with the presence of my husband’s past in my family.

It’s been almost nine years, so I’ve had alot of time to evolve and think about things. I didn’t initially like Tak, but not because of anything he had done. I resented him simply because of what he represented. I suppose one could choose whom to marry, but I couldn’t chose whom to fall in love with. And I fell in love with someone who had already had a full family life long before I heard my first “I love you,” long before I wore my first wedding dress and long before I took my first pregnancy test.

My attitude completely shifted when I became a mother. Who would’ve guessed that children would become different people to me after I had one of my own? How is it that I never saw them? How is it that I never really saw Tak, never saw that he had lost his father, never saw that I was the threat, and not the other way around?

Now that I am back in the States I am back in close touch with a number of friends, many of who don’t know that my husband has a son, that I have a stepson, that my son has a brother. The family in which I grew up disapproves of divorce. I was made to swear to not tell a soul about Tak or about Max’s past. There is also a part of me that has a hard time rolling “stepson” off my tongue because that small part of me still believes I don’t have “that” kind of family. And yet I do. Between my side and Max’s side of the family, there are at least 4 divorces that we can count right off the bat. And yet I’m the one who always said, “Just because people aren’t divorced doesn’t mean they’re happy.”

Fred’s early love for his half-brother was touching to the point of eerie. We had a number of friends over to our place when Fred was an infant and toddler, but he gravitated toward Tak with inexplicable attachment, as if he knew. While I keep our story quiet (don’t ask, don’t tell), Fred will tell anyone who’s willing to listen that he has a brother, and several times I have had to respond to teachers and other parents about whether it was really true.

The times that I have finally broken the news to my friends about Tak, that is what I have done: break the news, as if I were reporting a mishap with my car or other misfortune. It was something to prepare them for, unexpected news that begged my apology and their understanding and forgiveness.  But a child doesn’t need to be forgiven for simply being. I know that. And I hope that when he comes to visit later next month, I will be able to simply introduce Tak to my friends as Fred’s older brother, with equal pride for both my boys.

Follow-up to 40 Trumps 4 (aka the Struggles of a Don’t-Wannabe-Helicopter Mom)

So after about 3 pretty good semi-complaint-free weeks in the Chinese program Fred’s pleas to put him back in his former after school program came back Monday, in stereo. What made it worse this time is that he stated a concrete and legitimate reason for “hating Chinese school” (the space issue) and his teacher confirmed Monday his lack of motivation: “Fred didn’t do any work today. He said, ‘I hate Chinese.'”

Despite the fact that his teacher considered this behavior “unusual”, Fred’s griping confirmed my nagging doubts that maybe he should be having more fun, that he should have a bigger and better space in which to run around. It’s been a month and he still remembers the other program. Okay, I told Max…maybe we need to consider taking Fred out at the end of the month. I don’t want Fred to be unhappy and neither Max nor I want him to begin associating language learning with torture.

So flash forward 23.5 hours and I decide to pick Fred up 30 minutes earlier than usual in order to minimize his misery.

I step into the large room that is Fred’s – and 60 other children’s – classroom. His jacket and the various contents of his backpack are strewn on the table that belongs to his class, but Fred is nowhere to be found. I walk around, scanning the small faces of other Asian boys with closely cropped hair. Fred almost literally bounces out of the boys’ room, smiling widely.

“Hey Fred. Let’s go.” I make my way to the table to grab his stuff.


“What do you mean, no? I thought you’d want to go home.”

“No! Not yet!” 

And with that he took off, racing to his table where he sat down with three other classmates and began to shout out Chinese poem after Chinese poem from his textbook. As one of the few kids who doesn’t speak Chinese at home, and the one child who enrolled a full semester late,  Fred had trouble keeping up, his lips working hard to synchronize with the fluent rhythms of the other three girls. But there is one poem about the months of the year that he loves, because he knows this one by heart: Yi yue da, er yue shiao… 

“Mommy, let me read this to you!”

And so he did, for the next 50 minutes at the school, on the car ride home, on our short walk to and from the mailbox, and in the kitchen when we got home for his dad to hear. Today, in a rare moment of cooperation, he even got on the phone when his grandmother called and recited proudly (albeitly nervously) to her the poem.

Had I ever pulled Fred out, I would have missed that look of pride on his face when he realized he had accomplished something pretty significant. I don’t have any false hopes that he will become fluent in Chinese. If nothing else, I’d be ecstatic if he walked away from Chinese school feeling just a little more capable and confident than he did the first time he stepped foot in the class.

How do I know when my child’s truly miserable, and I’m pushing him too much? How do I know when it’s better to have him stick with something so that he’d learn the meaning of perseverance and commitment? I had shot off 2 emails to my friend K. in the last 36 hours. “I’m pulling Fred out.” “I’m keeping him in.” K. is the one who reminded me that 40 trumps 4. Today I reminded myself that no one ever loves anything 100% 100% of the time…and that is okay.

Writing My Family's Memories

It is hard to keep writing.

There is a Japanese expression mikka bozu that translates literally as “3-day monk.” This label is used to describe people who start something off with zeal only to quit after three tries. Max thinks of me as Queen Mikka.

I was pretty good last week, with my fingers typing nearly as quickly as those blog topics were popping into my head. And then I stopped. I’m writing too much, I thought, making my blog too dense. My writing class was just talking about “cooling” one’s “jets” and that’s exactly what I did. The problem is that once I began to cool off, I also shut off completely. The adrenaline stopped flowing even if the topics were in queue.  

Five years ago I started two projects that required regular writing. I began a journal each for Fred and for Max. In these little diaries I write short letters to them every so often. I started out writing entries every month or so, and over the last year that has spread out to every few months. And that’s Fred’s journal. Last night while moving things to our new bookcase I found my diary for Max, in which I had written only six entries since 2005. Fatigue, fighting (that increased during those first years of parenthood) and the feeling that there was nothing “interesting” to write about kept the pages of the heart-covered journal empty. Assuming I’d never pick it up again, I confessed to Max last night that I had meant to fill this diary up and present it to him on our 10-year wedding annniversary (which is 15 short months away). Now that the secret was out of the bag, I decided to read to him what I had written.

Isn’t Fred sooo adorable and lovable?? He is now 1 year, 3 months, 1 week old. Over the last few weeks he really had a developmental spurt: he knows to put things in the trash, recognizes music from our CDs and DVDs, gives kisses, jogs in place, and just otherwise seems to understand us.

Today we went to the hospital to get my breast checked by the specialist. Even though I am likely okay, I cannot feel completely at ease until we get the results.

So now we have 5 clients…do you think we will continue to grow??

We have decided we will move to the US in spring 2008. It will be a huge step for us…I am grateful to you for being willing to do this.

My writing was barely legible and my prose was hardly literature. It was foggy writing done at the end of marathon days: typos, scratches, choppy and to-the-point sentences. But these messy pages brought back memories my overloaded mind had long ago stopped storing. The mini-reports and emotional outbursts mapped our history as a family and traced my hopes and emotions as a mother and wife. They also told my husband things he never heard from or knew about me: how I loved him and needed him even when we were fighting, even at times we both feared that things would never go back to the way they used to be.

I was wrong. I did have interesting things to write about. Life, whether recounted during peaks of creativity or through bleary-eyed exhaustion, is still worth telling and remembering. I’ll continue writing and I will give Max the diary on our 20th anniversary.

Bad Mother Confession: I really don’t like playing…

I write this as Fred is enjoying his time at Jack’s house, where he’s spent a good part of the weekend already. Jack’s mom and I finally crossed that early awkward line of what a playdate means – a double date between mom and child or the golden babysitting opportunity. We now freely call up one another to ask for babysi – er – a playdate, or, in our more spontaneous moments, physically bring the child by the house and ring the bell, on the usually on-chance that the other mother will take the kid in. You see, it’s easier with two kids; they have the built-in energy, same-interest loving and annoyance-rolling-off-your-back ability to just delight each other to no end, thus making it possible for us adults to grab some quiet time to fold laundry, catch up on celebrity gossip or sneak in a nap.

Okay, I am giving just one side of the story here. Hopefully if you have read my previous posts you will know instinctively just how much I love my child and how I have built my life around him. We became interested in such playdates because we were so happy that Fred has met another friend whom he loves – and that’s the word he uses – so much. “We tell everyone at school we’re brothers, Mommy,” Fred revealed to me one day. And Jack’s mother tells me that Jack says he no longer needs another sibling if he has Fred. At the ripe old age of 5 they’ve discussed plans to go to middle school together and Fred is already in love with Jack’s girl friend. It doesn’t get more brotherly than this!

But let’s face it: I love this free time, and it’s not only because Fred gets to spend it with his “brother.” I love it because I get to numb my brain in front of the internet, read a juicy mystery novel or just snooze away in the sunlight. It’s taken me years to allow myself to admit this. Does it mean I prefer Facebook or a paperback novel to quality time with my child? That is the part I find hard to accept in myself. I will admit that sometimes, usually when I am exhausted – and that is my usual physical (and mental) state – cries of “Let’s play Bakugan Brawlers!” will send waves of dread over me. Suddenly I have this inexplicable preference to sanitize all the shower curtains and toilet bowls in the house.

I had never been good at playing. I had never been good at being a kid. As a child I related more to adults and preferred the company of adults. My mother said she could put a book in my hands and forget I even existed. Consequently I never became really popular as a high school or college student; I was too square and well-behaved to be any fun, hip or cool. And the funny and ironic thing is that I was in HOT demand as a babysitter! To be sure, it wasn’t easy to find a straight-laced and authority-respecting teenager. I wasn’t hip or cool but that probably made my stock higher among the parents looking for a sitter. I was responsible and a good role model. But always I was aware that the kids deserved someone “fun.”

So God didn’t help any by giving me a boy. The day my ob told me the ultrasound revealed a little penis, I literally burst into tears. How do I raise a boy?? I didn’t know what I’d do – as a child I had liked reading, daydreaming and drawing pictures in solitude and I was afraid that any boy with my genes would only turn into a playground target. Though Fred was just a fetus, I loved him enough at that early stage to believe that he deserved someone more…”fun.”

Fortunately for me Fred shares my love for words and art. And fortunately for Fred his father shares his love for sports, silliness and sometimes over-the-top action. I do spend alot of time with Fred, despite the time I need to spend on our business. But Fred is already in school 5 long days a week…and I am feeling guilty for still relishing some of my own time on the weekends… 

The other night after his shower I noticed that Fred waited for me to be done cleaning out the bathtub before he went into his room to get dressed.

“Go on and get dressed, Fred. I’ll be right there.” I told him. But he stood in place, silently signaling to me that he was going to wait.

“Fred, you really should be more independent.”

“What does ‘independent’ mean?” he asked, his body looking even smaller in the oversized towel.

“It means being able to do things by yourself. So go on. You don’t have to wait for me.”

“I know I don’t. But I love you so I just want to be with you.”

I have no conclusion. I haven’t figured it out. I love Fred. I love my free time. I wince to see Fred grow up so quickly. I often long for uninterrupted hours to myself. All I know is that I’ll continue to feel guilty until the day comes when I will indeed have plenty of long, uninterrupted hours to myself.