Saturday, July 7, 2012

Paid for

I had the gum in my hand, and I had earned it.  It was not easy to reach that shelf.  Not at all.  Ready to go, I started to trot toward the door when Mom caught me by my upper arm with one hand (not for the first or last time, mind you). 

“If we don’t pay for it, we have to put it back,” she said.

“Am I paid for?” I asked, eying our cart with all of our stuff in it.

Mom smiled.  “Yes.  You’re paid for.”

I saw hope.  “Let’s not pay for Sisa.”

“Sisa” was my little sister, and I never once asked for one.  Parents ought to take this into account before procreating a second time.  Once she passed the biting phase, though, I started to like her. 

True, I still wasn’t happy about some things, like when in preschool she’d slip into my bed after a nightmare, pee, climb out, change all of her clothes, drop them on the floor, and then climb back into her own dry bed.  But when life hands you a younger sibling, it hands you other things as well:  someone who loves you no matter what, who thinks you are the smartest and the best, and who is small enough to be bossed around from time to time.  And life throws in some extra lessons—learning to share, to listen, to be fair, to compromise—not quite free of charge.

We were as likely to hit one another as play together.  In fact, hitting one another was playing together.  But in our whirlwind bouts, twirling in a tug of war over the best dress-up skirt as one dog barked encouragement and the other dog alternately took sides (and ripped the ruffle off the skirt in the process), there was something reassuring about the pair of fierce eyes I locked onto.  I knew that the anger was momentary.  The skirt would eventually be worn by one of us—or destroyed by the dog.  In a minute, though, those eyes would be giggling, and we would be happy once more.

In our teens, I found a new benefit.  My “little” sister was a hair bigger than me.  While we shared almost everything, anything of hers that I really wanted could be made truly mine by running it through the dryer once on high.  But even then, she didn’t stay angry forever.  No.  Instead, her hair-bigger feet stretched out my slightly smaller shoes so that they were truly hers.

Still, we were together.  There was always a hand to hold, a butt to share a bus seat, a shoulder to cry on, and lips to give advice—wanted or not.

We grew apart after high school but grew back together after the births of our first children just four months apart.  As we have faced the heartache of seeing those boys face mental health diagnoses, outpatient therapies, school issues, health issues—the list goes on and on—I found such strength in her voice over the phone, her hugs in person, and her laughter over the truly ridiculous trials of life. 

“Do you realize you talked to your sister for 800 minutes last month?” my father asked as we were comparing our cell phone usage.

Sounds like a good investment to me.

Friday, July 6, 2012

I Love You More Than You Know

"I love you more than you know, Mommy," my little one tells me as he crawls into bed beside me at 5:53 AM, pulls my hair, and presses his nose against mine.

"Rrmmf."  I open my eyes and to meet his beautiful brown ones staring square at me.  "I love you, too, Stink."

If you can believe it, the little one pushes his nose even further into mine--like mashing Play-Doh balls together--as his eyes take on a murderous glint.

"Mommy, what have I told you about copying me?!"


There is so much truth to everything my little one does--the whole way that we hurt the very one we love at the moment we are loving them and then forbid them to return their affection in the same way, as if each expression of fondness must be original in order to be genuine.

But it doesn't, and the last twenty-four hours watching a dear friend say goodbye to the love of her life have cemented that for me.

I love you all so much more than you know, and, even though I have stolen the words from the little one, they are no less true.

I love my little one in his short skinny ferocity.  I love the way he charms the old ladies with his shy smile and questions which ultimately net him a toy, a treat, or just a pat on the head.  I love his insistence that he is right and that fireworks are really planets, planes leaving vapor trails are meteors, and he really was in my belly at the same time as his brother but it just took God two years longer to put him together.  I love him so much it blows my mind.

And, even though he is my favorite, I am equally certain, in the paradox that is motherhood, that his brother is the one I like best.  I love the big one's ability to traverse a day completely in movement with no words whatsoever.  When he does deign to speak, I am flabbergasted at his depth of insight.  "Of course infinity plus one million isn't more than infinity because infinity is always getting bigger and can't even be compared.  Duh!  Everybody knows that."  No, big one, not everybody knows that, especially not every seven-going-on-eight (don't forget the going-on-eight part!) year-old.

And my husband.  What can I say about how much I love my husband?  That I would travel half the world to be with him again and again?  That he would do--has done, in fact--the same for me?  How can you put love of that magnitude into words?

But the incredibly amazing thing is that the love doesn't end there. 

I can't put to words the affection I feel for my mother when her foot is in her mouth, the amusement my father's sarcasm stirs in me, the lift of my heart when I see my sister's name on the caller ID (and the excitement I get from all the antics of her children), or the pride and joy with which I watched my brother teach my boys how to climb trees.  What of the aunts, uncles, grandparents?

But when you think you'd run out of love, it expands. 

There are my in-laws to consider:  my niece, whom I fell in love with immediately after my husband; my nephew, who always longs to be going somewhere--anywhere; my husband's brother and his wife, who were the first to accept me into the family; my sister-in-law and her husband, who love my boys almost (maybe even) as much as I do; my father-in-law, who shares my sense of humor; and my mother-in-law, who has proven her determination to love me again and again.  How could I live without them?

How could I live without my friends in Korea who made my life bearable and helped me find the support I needed on those "What the H***?" days when I just couldn't get control of the world around me?  How much I appreciated the help of my non-Korean friends sharing their struggles to adapt and how much I benefited from the love and patience of my Korean friends who forgave my missteps and misperceptions and showed me how to be a doing-friend and not a just-talking-friend.

How could I survive daily without my neighbors now?  The woman I pray with nearly every day is a constant source of support.  She's always looking and listening and trying--no matter how far-fetched or flaky.  If that isn't open-minded, I'm not sure what is. I love my down-the-parking-lot friend in her searching, arguing stubbornness.  I love that she doesn't even want the President of the United States telling her kids what to do.  I love the way she prompts her children to give to others, the way she faces life head on, the way she works multiple shifts in a row every weekend in order to be available to her children.  I love my across-the-street neighbor with her patience, listening, and intuitiveness.  I will never forget her Mother's Day pajama gift to me on a day that I felt particularly unloved.  Her sharing of her struggles has given me more hope than she can ever know.  I know she prays because after I talk to her, things happen.  It's like living next to the Apostle Paul but without the arrogant misogynistic tendencies.  And I love my next-door neighbors and their children who knock on my door to see if my kids can play, don't believe me when I say no, and then press their noses against my living room window to peer in and check if I lied.

And what of those friends I never see, the people around the world with whom I digitally derive support each and every day?  They are no less real, their encouragement no less uplifting.

I love this world for its surprises and its synchronicity, for what it can be, for God's ability to bring forward incredible people to touch one another--our life writers from whom I have received so much incredible wisdom and caring, those at the school, the kids on the playground, the workers around.

I love you all so very much more than you know. 

Now go tell someone else while the telling is good.