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.

#HolidayResponsibly

Several months ago, the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org) hollered at me about their “How to Have Tough Conversations” #HolidayResponsibly campaign. I’m always careful about what I pimp out because I respect this thing we got going on, but after speaking with FAAR and learning about their initiatives to eliminate drunk driving and underage drinking, and the ways they promote responsible decision-making, I was totally “hell yeah” about participating. My video segment is about how Harv and I are doing date nights now and what we’re trying to teach Cal about drinking and driving. After watching it, you’ll prob understand why I ain’t about that vlog life. I didn’t know a face could twitch that much in less than a minute. Click here or on the picture below for the video. Check out Responsibility.org for additional resources and tips to keep teens safe.

ejlFAAR

Let’s be homies4life. Holler at me.
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Daddy Issues (aka: Girl, Why You So Typical)

wanted
One of my most…no, my #1 MOST FAVORITE activity is to devote large blocks of time making up complicated hypothetical dilemmas and then challenging myself to find an efficient solution that still has a little bit of panache. I don’t like it when people walk around with their chest puffed out because they performed an act of kindness. Questions form. Did they do it for the accolades? Is he going to write a Facebook status update about his bravery and pray for at least 15 likes? But I also don’t like it when heroes act like it’s NBD. I tread a fine line. I never ask for a parade or anything extravagant at the end of my make-believe dramas, but will I turn down an edible fruit bouquet? That’s just stupid. Fruit is a wonderful source of vitamins.

Once in a while, I allow myself a happy scenario. A place or a situation that could never actually exist in real life but I can’t help wanting anyway. My father is in most of these moments. Sometimes I pretend that he stayed for my entire high school graduation. I erase all the shame I used to feel when my friends saw my father in his industrial coveralls and Volt sneakers from Wal-Mart.

I don’t talk about my father a lot, but it’s not because I dislike him or because there aren’t any stories about him. He’s been absent for so long that I just don’t think about him that much anymore. At least I think I don’t. But my behavior seems to indicate that I have daddy issues.

I never wanted my badness to be the result of anyone else. I refused to accept that other people influenced my choices and my outlook on life. I didn’t want it to be about other people because I can’t control other people. I can only control me. And I’m not even good at that. Ask me about the entire bag of wasabi peas I just ate. Lord Jesus, my esophagus is on fire.

My father was rarely at home as I was growing up. He worked odd hours as a government employee, and on his free days, he spent most of his time in the garage, tinkering with cars in various stages of crisis. I only went out to the garage once before I left home permanently at the age of 17. He preferred solitude, but he let me stay just this one time.

As I sat on the hood of his car, he showed me pictures of tools that he wanted. They were some brand called Snap-on. He said those tools were serious business and very, very expensive. One day when I grow up, I thought, I’m going to be a millionaire and then I’ll buy my dad the whole entire set of Snap-on tools. Even the little accessory parts and a red Craftsmen chest to store them. The rolling kind.

To this day, every time I see a Snap-on company truck drive by, I think about my father and my unfulfilled promise.

But maybe I’m thinking about this all wrong. Maybe he’s the one that was supposed to give me tools. Tools so that I could navigate adulthood. Tools for me to repair the cracks in my relationships and seal the leaks in my friendships and tighten up those loose ends that happen when you focus on one area of your life for too long and let everything else slide. 

I spent four months locating my father in 2012. We hadn’t seen each other since he divorced my mother in 2000. When I found him, I flew to Texas and we met for lunch. I didn’t have anything in particular that I wanted to say. I just wanted to see my father. And I thought he might want to see me all grown up.

I told him that I turned out okay. You know, in case he was worried about me. I always feel better when I know Cal is safe. That doesn’t mean I coddle her or anything though. She’s on spring break right now and when she asked about the activities I had planned, I told her that she would be building me some Ikea furniture. Nothing crazy. Just a bookcase and a rolling cart. Some people are really sensitive when it comes to child labor, but I’m not one of those people.

Ironically, on the day that I was in Texas having lunch with him, this Huffington Post piece about the absence of my father came out. We exchanged phone numbers after lunch. He wanted to plan a get-together for the summer with my aunts and uncles. He said he would call me. I don’t know why I believed him because he made that exact same statement years before.

I haven’t heard from him since. I think my father needs to work on follow-through.

Sometimes I think about what that phone call would be like. You know how you talk to someone on the phone and there’s not one awkward or dull moment? And in that giant expanse of all those words, there isn’t one tiny moment of stupid? And then you want to talk to that person again?

It would be just like that.

“This is what I know: People’s hopes go on forever.” -Junot Diaz
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Holler at me: Flourish in Progress on Facebook (I post a lot of quotes and thug shit here. Pretty decent way to waste time.) Instagram @flourishinprogress (evidence of child labor, that lap dance I gave a panda at SXSW, me and some rappers) Twitter @ElizabethJLiu (I complain a lot here.)

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