Look at the Stars. Look How They Shine for You.

HBDCal15flourishinprogress on Instagram

One of my favorite pastimes is hanging out with young children. Not necessarily because I like children, but because I’m pretty much going to be the smartest person in the bunch. When I ask if anyone would like to challenge me in a one-on-one addition battle, I often hear excuses about how they’ve only mastered number recognition, but that’s not important to me. What’s important is winning.

Spending time with young people gives me a chance to remember small moments with Cal at that age. I thought I was going to pack away every childhood highlight in some mental box, each piece easily accessible whenever nostalgia strikes. It’s not that easy, but those memories are in there somewhere, albeit jumbled, and they surface whenever I see a familiar expression or hear an innocent question, like when someone asks, “What’s it like being old?”

Cal asked me that question when she was 4. I was 23. I felt old, so the question didn’t offend me, but I wanted to make sure I understood her. “Are you asking me what it’s like to be a grown-up?” When she nodded, I answered truthfully, “I’m still trying to figure it out. Maybe I’ll get good at it soon.”

I’m still trying to get good at being a grown-up.

Cal turned 15 yesterday. I have no idea how time moved so fast…yet, so slow. I feel like I’ve lived so many lifetimes since Cal was born.

When I got pregnant at 18, I kept it a secret from almost everyone. I didn’t know who else to talk to, so I started praying a lot. God and I had a pretty tenuous relationship until then, but I felt an overwhelming urge to seek out a Higher Power. I prayed that He would put forgiveness in my mother’s heart. I prayed that He would keep me safe when I ran away from home during my second trimester. And when it came to praying for Cal, I mostly just asked God for a baby with good-looking feet. It was really important to me that my child feel confident in open-toe sandals. I pleaded with Him to make my baby sort-of normal: sort-of normal looking and sort-of normal on the inside too. I didn’t need her to be especially pretty (except for the feet) or thoughtful or kind. I tried not to be greedy.

Sometimes, it seems like God doesn’t hear my prayers. Last Christmas, I asked God to help Santa put a bow-tied Lil Wayne under the tree, but I got a deluxe lap desk with a cup holder instead. I was upset at first, but now I can see how anyone could get those two confused, especially during the busy holiday season. I’m still not sure what the problem was when I prayed again for Lil Wayne on my birthday, which is in September, but maybe Jesus observes Labor Day, and the foam-filled reading pillow was just a stopgap gift.

At other times, I am awestruck by His grace and mercy. It still surprises me that my daughter did not come out broken. We only allow ourselves what we think we deserve. While I fervently prayed for sort-of normal, I was prepared for a malformed child, a slow child, an unhappy child, or a malicious child. But Cal is perfect.

When my mother realized that I intended to keep the baby, she pressured me to reconsider. She reminded me that a baby was not a toy I could put on a shelf when I grew tired of playing with it and wanted a newer and shinier diversion. A baby is forever. She repeated this Korean phrase to me over and over again:

pluckastar“Plucking a star from the sky”
She said that raising a baby as an unwed, uneducated teen with no money was like trying to pluck a star from the sky- impossible, futile, and disheartening.

The fear of transitioning from someone’s child to someone’s mother without the luxury of becoming a grown-up first made me feel small and flimsy. When I closed my eyes at night, I imagined my arms growing longer and longer, grasping for the closest star, each one bright and beautiful and seemingly within reach. I’d wrap my hand around the light, but each time I brought my fist close and peered in, there was nothing but dark space.

I asked God to help me become a grown-up. And I gave my daughter the Korean name “Seh Byul.”
newstarIts literal English translation is New Star. I couldn’t pluck a star from the sky, so I made a new one.

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

Let’s be homies4life. Holler at me.
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  • Are You Kidding Me?

    That’s beautiful – and it seems like Cal has bloomed under your influence, so I guess God answered well enough. What about those feet, though?

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      God forrealz delivered on that prayer request. Everything else has been a bonus. Happy holidays, my friend.

  • Alyssa Kolsky Hertzig

    this is so beautiful! you’re a wonderful writer–and cal is so cute!

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Thank you for the kindness! xo

  • steph


    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      <3 Much love to you.

  • http://www.elizabethaquino.blogspot.com/ Elizabeth Aquino

    Well, everything about this rocks ALL the stars in the sky. You are such a beautiful writer and person — and I’m mucho impressed by your video skills. What twitching?

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Just another reason I love seeing, texting, hanging with you so much. You just pretend all my weird shit doesn’t even exist.

  • Julie

    This was truly such an inspiring and heartfelt post. You are an amazing mom EJL she is so lucky to have u as mom!!! Thank u for checking in with me today!!!!

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      You’re always there for me when I need a listening ear. Thank YOU!

  • http://genieinablog.com. Leigh Ann

    Such a gorgeous post. Excuse me, I think I have something in my eye. *sniff sniff*

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      You are so, so kind. I’m glad I know you.

  • Stylish Housewife

    Such a beautiful story. Happy birthday Cal! It was so fun to hear your voice…after just seeing you through pics and reading your words all these years! You’re such a beauty! And girl…I almost swallowed my tongue the first time I had to be on camera. They had to feed me one line at a time and edit it together and I still sucked! #aintaboutthevloglifeeither

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I’m sure the video just reconfirmed how hardcore and ghetto you suspected I would be. ;) Now I’m super curious about your on camera appearances. I can’t imagine you being anything but polished and fabulous.

  • kimchi_mom


    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Thank you!

  • Shannon Bradley-Colleary

    Elizabeth — what happens when I read you is always a bright green jolt of envy, because I love the way a story unfolds from you, without any kind of urgency based on commerce or approval from without, but with its own natural pace, its own funny, touching, delicate, yet bold specificity. There is no one like you. And you adhere to nothing but your own voice. I suspect you will keep making me jealous, but I forgive you. Xo

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Your compliments are always a standout. Thank you.

  • http://www.TheNextDelusion.com Cassandra

    Happy Birthday to Cal and kudos to you for your bravery at such a young age. You two are very lucky to have each other.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Thank you for calling it bravery instead of ignorance! In hindsight, I often wonder how I had the balls to do that. But I think that’s the blessing that comes with youth.

  • http://mikoford.blogspot.com/ Miko Ford

    You seem like a wonderful mother who also can be real about situations that aren’t perfect. You crack me up. I think Cal is special to have such a mother like you who seems to be filled with unconditional love for her.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I have unconditional love for her except when her school pick up time coincides with reruns of Cold Case and then I have to pick Cold Case. She knows and understands.

  • http://vi3tbabe.com/ Vi

    Girl, don’t I know EXACTLY how you feel?! I had BG1 at 19 and that was def an emotional time for me. You know how Asians are, and it’s even worse when you’re a first gen Asian-American. Your parents and elders are just so stuck in that traditional mindset, they won’t see anything else. I def didn’t have it as hard as you, so I give you mad props for being so strong, but yeah. I feel you.

    And trust me, I thank the heavens every day that I’m blessed not only with one, but three perfect miracles. I only hope I can do them justice and raise them right.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I give you mad props for having three. Just one (and a pretty self sufficient one at that) overwhelms me. She’s been asking for a dog but I’m like hey, if we’re going to get a dog, I might as well have another baby.

      Cal says it’s not really the same thing, but I’m older and know everything, so I’m pretty sure I’m right.

  • Brittany Olson

    Lady I miss you when you are gone and I don’t FB or instagram so I miss out.
    Loved your post, seems Cal turned into a wonderful young woman and equally you turned into a Flourishing woman.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Still in progress…and while I don’t mind the journey as much now, I hope I can be all bloomed and shit instead of this flourish grind.

      I hope to write more next year. I thank you for your part in my journey.

  • Rosa Diaz

    Brilliant! Thank you for this story.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Thank you for your kindness! And for reading!

  • Angela

    Cal is so lucky to have you. All you put into loving and raising her; your brokeness, your hope, your loneliness, your entire self, is humbling and beautiful to read. Happy birthday, Cal and happy anniversary of motherhood to you.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Wow, thank you. Thank was so beautifully said. I really appreciate those words. Happy holidays to you.

  • http://aladyinfrance.com/ Jennie Goutet

    I am about to go look at your video and see your beautiful face. :-) Cal is perfect, of course. And I can’t believe you are Korean. I thought Liu was a Chinese name – this is not me being naive. My sister is Korean (totally gorgeous), and I speak Chinese. Or at least I used to.

    Sending lots of love to a girl who managed to pluck a star right out of the sky.

    • http://aladyinfrance.com/ Jennie Goutet

      PS The video was perfect, and you were as gracious as always.

      • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

        Oh gosh, you’re always such a shining example of grace and love. Thank you.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Liu is my married name. But even my Korean last name wasn’t the typical ones (a lot of Chinese people with it as well) and apparently (according to old Korean ladies) I “look” Chinese, so people assumed I was Chinese even before I got married.
      Cal would be so jealous that you know how to speak Chinese. She tried to learn for Harv’s sake when we got married, but after Harv told her he couldn’t speak it, she quickly gave up the lessons. ha

      • http://aladyinfrance.com/ Jennie Goutet

        Oh, that made me laugh. :-) My Chinese is dismal now, but there was a time when I spoke pretty fluently. Hugs to you three!

  • SuzLotus

    “We only allow ourselves what we think we deserve.” Wow. Just…I’m going think about that for a long time.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      You deserve everything bright and beautiful and good. Happy New Year.

  • http://www.thebrokelife.org thebrokelife

    Aw! I love this! Your and your star are lucky to have each other. :)

    Also, I’m sorry that you didn’t get Lil Wayne for Christmas. Santa can be a real dick sometimes.

    • http://flourishinprogress.com/ Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I’m still holding out hope he’ll deliver this Christmas.

  • HogsAteMySister

    Really lovely. Good on you for your courage and humor and gift with words. Carry on.

  • Lizzie


  • loreleijane

    I stumbled upon your speech via another Instagrammer, and I cried (and equally laughed!) listening to you read this blog entry. It is raw, beautiful, and tender. Thank you for being brave and sharing your journey with the world. You are a beautiful writer – a harmonious balance of humor, humility, and realism.

  • jihae watson

    Just found your blog and I will be stalking you on Instagram too. Korean moms are so crazy, the things they say to discourage and encourage their kids, and how the two seem interchangeable at times. And now we are Korean mothers! The madness continues! But I’m so glad to hear you got a new star, and she sounds fantastic, much like her mother.

  • Noelle

    I just found your blog and I love the way you write, forrealzzz!