Happy Birthday, Cal. I’m not good at much, but I will be good to you.

kurtcobain

Sometimes it is too hard to write about love- the density of its emotions, the significance of its role, the fear of its absence, the silence after its exit.

I have tried many times to tell my daughter how much I love her. I wish I knew enough words.

When Cal was born, I made a promise to us that I would stay alive until she turned 30. I was 19 then, and 30 more years of living seemed like a heavy commitment, but I wanted to wait until my daughter was a real grown-up before I left her to fend for herself. I don’t know why I picked 30, but that age seemed so old and unknowable to my teen mind.

I know now that 30 isn’t old at all. When I reached that milestone age a few years ago, I certainly didn’t feel very grown-up, and I still wasn’t ready to fend for myself. I mean, yes, I avoid my mother’s phone calls occasionally because how many times can one person remind you to eat the entire box of oranges she bought on sale at the Korean market to keep scurvy at bay. But even now, if my mother dropped dead, there would still be a deep and unfillable void. And even if I felt like a real adult, I think it’s still okay for an adult to want to be someone’s child too.

On Saturday, Cal turned 14. None of her birthdays have ever been complicated productions. I lacked funds before I got married. I got funds now, but I’m lazy as fuck. This year, I decided to use the last three ounces of Give A Fuck I had stowed away “just in case” to plan a surprise Golden Birthday Snack Time. If you think about it, no one ever expects a celebration during afternoon snacks. As you can see, I really understand the concept of “surprise.”

I spent weeks scouring the devil’s playground (also known as Pinterest) for ideas and tutorials. After attempting some of the crafts, I figured out that DIY is bullshit. I’m into DISE. Do It Someone Else.

I ordered the ombre birthday cake. I helped Harv make the tea sandwiches. I covered the entire dining room floor in glitter wrapping paper. I finally used the Cricut I bought six years ago to make a “Happy Birthday Homegirl” banner. I fought with four very large and unruly balloons and lost. I set out trays of specially-ordered desserts.  I waited for her to come home. I wondered which detail would thrill her the most.

The next morning, as she was getting ready to leave the house, she came into my bedroom and gave me a hug. “Mommy, thank you for yesterday. That rock candy was so awesome.”

Despite all of the privileges in her life, Cal still loves the small and simple pleasures. Maybe that’s why she’s so happy all of the time. I don’t take time to appreciate everyday miracles. I wait for big moments. I try to create big moments.

She’s my daily reminder that happiness only comes when we allow it into our lives. That I don’t have to be perfect to be good. That big gestures aren’t the only ones that count.

I’m not good at much, but I will be good to you.

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14on14(flourishinprogress on Instagram)

P.S. This will be my last post for 2013. I’ve never allowed myself an “official” break, and I’ve always been riddled with guilt when I go for too many days without hollering at y’all. Maybe if I make this break official, it will give me some peace of mind while I play catch-up for the next few weeks. There are so many half-finished items on my checklist. I’m looking forward to a fresh new year. Although these past 12 months have been ridiculous, I know so much more about myself and life and happiness because I lost small bits and then big chunks of all three this year.

I’ll still be working the Facebook and Instagram grind. “Like” the Flourish in Progress Facebook page and follow along on Instagram (username: flourishinprogress) for (t)hug life thoughts, not-seen-on-this-blog pictures, and other mildly entertaining but useless shit.

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Take good care.

How to Avoid Death and Incarceration

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Sometimes, I will say things like “I don’t want to brag or anything” and “I don’t like to boast,” but I just started tacking on those additions because my husband asked me to do it. I let him win once in a while. Now that I think about it, he didn’t even give me a compelling reason. All he said was that ladies with a modicum of class and refinement don’t go around baring every small success. I don’t really understand his reason, but let me be proof that you can dislike something without actually knowing what it means.

Each December, I take a few days to mentally flip through the previous 11 months. I place imaginary checks next to the goals I set the year before and accomplished, roll over any unfinished business, and then spend the rest of the time going back to the check marks and giving myself a shitload of high-fives. It sort of looks like clapping, but a lot more boisterous.

There wasn’t a ton of boisterous clapping this year. Things were rough. I battled depression (ok, still battling, but I’m going H.A.M. on it), and I met myself for the first time. I gained a level of self-awareness I didn’t have before, and it felt like I was being introduced to the real me without all of the filters I had set up to guard myself against the truth.

I’m still disappointed by this real me. The kind of disappointment an adopted kid must feel after thinking that her birth mother is an opera singer who never forgets her coupon binder and rescues abused seals but finds out she’s actually a lot lizard with stubby toes who only eats at Carl’s Jr. A menagerie of embarrassment and shame and shock and waving some fists at God…that sort of thing.

Even when there is a shortage of check marks, I’m still a big believer in giving credit where credit is due. In this case, to myself. And since I have no trouble boasting about my successes, I’m just going to share the Top 2 from 2013 along with expert inside advice on how to do the same.

1. Still not dead: Cactus Cooler is my favorite beverage, but I try to drink several glasses of plain water every day. Sometimes, I add a splash of Cactus Cooler to the water because I’m a big fan of the artificial “could be citrus but not that sure” flavor. Dehydration causes death. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m very passionate about hydration.

I floss the fuck out of my teeth. I also use a Waterpik and an electric toothbrush. Skipping the floss might not kill you, but Gingivitis and cavities will eventually cause tooth loss. If you don’t have insurance or a lot of money to replace your teeth, you will not be able to eat properly, and then you will starve to death.

Just say no to drugs. I spent 8 years of my life high. I still can’t look at a bottle of Gatorade without thinking about crack. Drugs will kill you. Even worse, drug use will cause wrinkles and the sparkle from your eyes will disappear.

2. Still not in prison: On my saddest days, I feel like I’m in a prison because my thoughts and emotions trap me in a bad and ugly place, but I would never, ever, ever express that to a real prisoner because s/he would beat the shit out of me for being ridiculous. I get it. Real prison is worse than my tears of despair. But an even more bitter place to be is crying tears of despair in prison because there are no 3-ply tissues “on the inside,” and my face won’t stand for that cheap single-ply shit. This is just one of the reasons I can’t be convicted of any crime.

I no longer keep company with negative, dangerous, scheming, untruthful, deranged, whiny, dramatic people. Ain’t gonna lie, this swiftly removed a sizable chunk of my friend list which made me lonely and regretful of my decision in the beginning. My life was consumed by drama for so long that it’s still my default setting, and I gravitate toward volatile people. Two unstable people cannot construct a stable friendship. JUST TRUST ME. The other person’s volatility would set off my own. I narrowly avoided hitting someone this summer. Physical violence=jail time. Most likely. But don’t risk it.

I finally got honest with myself about having a rage issue. And I’m getting help for it. I have no idea what my life will look like without all this anger. And I’m worried that it’s going to take a very long time. I’ll know I’m fixed when my first reaction to conflict isn’t to hit and destroy. Dear God, how many coffee mugs from HomeGoods will have to sacrifice their lives before I’m good?

This is a lot of information and maybe you won’t remember all of it. That’s ok. Just floss your teeth and keep your hands to yourself. You are very fucking welcome.

P.S. I also give extremely wise and useful tips on the Flourish in Progress Facebook page and showcase my exemplary life on Instagram (username: flourishinprogress). Well, I plan to in the future. Right now, it’s just a lot of (t)hug life shit. Like and follow anyway. You probably won’t regret it.

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SMFH (Notes on Being a Bad Korean American)

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I don’t like to boast about my own talents because praise always seems more legit when it comes from an outside source, but not enough people have appreciated this skill, so I’m just going to spotlight it myself. My box taping skills are pretty incredible. If you receive a package from me in the future, please take a minute to notice the crisp end cuts and the crisscross pattern I use for extra security.

Moving something like 20 times in 33 years has allowed me to hone this talent. These moves include 2 continents, 5 states, and 12 different cities. I’m not including the cities I briefly called “home” during my time as a runaway. Whenever possible, I like to set boundaries to keep the chaos in my life to a minimum. As I started adding up all the pieces of my previously nomadic life, I decided that the defining mark for officially claiming a residence as “mine” was whether or not I received mail there.

People ask most about my childhood in Texas. “Were you the only Asian kid in your school?” “Did you experience a lot of racism?” “Does everyone own a pair of cowboy boots in Texas?” “How come you don’t have a drawl?”

Everything else is easy to answer, but the racism question always stumps me. The truth is, I experienced almost no grief from my predominantly white community as I was growing up. But I’ve experienced a lot of it. From other Korean Americans.

And because my answer isn’t something that people expect or even want to hear, I just shake my head and say nothing at all. I’ve been too afraid to talk about the grief I’ve encountered from my own people, because all of my poor life choices already make me a Bad Korean. My biggest fear is that by speaking out about my disillusionment, I’ll travel to the place of no return- Really Bad Traitor Korean.

I’m finally okay with that. The truth is not always pretty, but lies are much uglier than an imperfect truth.

If I had to pick one word to sum up my experience as a Korean American woman, it would be this: Side-eye.

As openminded and modernized as Koreans like to think we’ve become, it’s still a culture of longstanding traditions and molds. And anyone who doesn’t follow these unspoken rules is shamed, vilified, and ostracized. They get the side-eye for bringing shame to their family and for not living up to their potential.

The few times I’ve tried to bring up these negative feelings with my Korean friends, I pretty much get the same response, “But, Elizabeth, how can you be so racist against your own kind. You need to have a more forgiving heart.” In the world of comebacks, if that’s the strongest argument against a stereotype, it means the stereotype wins.

Supposedly, I think this way because I’m a “whitewashed banana” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). I have “too many” non-Korean friends, and I don’t go to a Korean church because I’m “too good for that.” Fellow Koreans want to know if my mother has “gotten over” the fact that I married a Chinese man. “It must be hard for your mom not to be able to communicate freely with your husband.” They also want to know if my family has forgiven me for my reckless youth and the teen pregnancy, multiple drug addictions, and college drop-out status that resulted from years of rebellion.

I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about what qualifies as banana-esque white people attributes because I’m too busy trying to embrace and accept myself, and I don’t want to define a quality as Korean or Other. That’s stupid as fuck, because at the end of the day, I’m trying to own ALL of me despite the category each piece fits into. I will NOT be shamed for who I am.

I don’t pick friends based on skin color. And I don’t go to a Korean church because the last time I did, the pastor’s wife told me to think about leaving my daughter at home because I was setting a Bad Korean example for the youth group kids as an unmarried mom. When I joined a fellowship group for another Korean church earlier this year, I was told that the way I dress reveals too much cleavage. I paid for these bitches. I will show them off if I choose.

And my “poor, shamed” family is relieved that I found anyone at all to marry me. They’re still working through my colorful past, but I’ve set the bar so low that these days, any small victory is, like, a big fucking deal to them.

I hope my daughter isn’t seen as a Bad Korean through association. But I’m not holding my breath on that one. I’d be giving credit where credit simply isn’t due. Just because my own experiences have not been positive also doesn’t mean I’m actively poisoning Cal’s mind either. It’s still our blood and history and heritage, and for that, I try to honor it. Even if I don’t like it.

P.S. I didn’t even get a chance to touch on Korean men. Like my ex-boyfriend who became enraged because I loved my daughter more than I loved him. Or because I didn’t offer to wash the dishes at his parent’s house. And asked me to wear long sleeves so his family wouldn’t see my “slutty tattoos.” I guess I’ll have to write another post about being a Bad Korean in the future.

P.P.S. Well, this transition is awkward, but on a bright note: There were so many amazing Six-Word Memoirs in last week’s giveaway post that I resorted to using names in a hat and Cal’s Winner Picking Hands to choose. Missljk, please email me at flourishinprogress at gmail with your mailing address and the state you’d like.

P.P.P.S. Not turned off by my Bad Korean ways? Then let’s stay connected until I offend you in another way.
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