When I moved to Asia in 2005, I made a list of places I wanted to visit. Vietnam had been on the top of that list from the beginning, and yet for thirteen years I never went. I know . . . how can I come up with excuses for thirteen years, right? But as we all know, life happens. One time I actually had tickets in hand and tours and hotels booked, but Hubby had a health crisis only a couple days before we were scheduled to leave, and we cancelled all of our bookings and thanked God it didn’t happen while we were traveling. After that failed attempt, every time a holiday rolled around, we had other things to do. My son and daughter were born, and we wanted destinations that would be easier to do while toting preschooler and toddler around with us. Or Hubby was in grad school, and we had to forego our vacation to pay tuition (and so he could use the time off work to write those papers). There was always something that took precedence . . . for thirteen years.
When my son was only two, my husband told our friends that his first child was a genius.
Okay. Maybe he didn’t say those words exactly, but he did like to inform anyone who would listen that his two-year-old son knew the whole alphabet (upper and lower case), could tell you all the letter sounds, and could count and recognize numerals as well.
During these cringe-worthy revelations, the realist that I am, I’d take it upon myself to divulge the rest of the story. Between the obligatory ooooh’s and ahhh’s from the poor recipient of this information, I’d fold my arms and my usually soft-spoken, barely-there voice would speak up with an uncharacteristic sarcasm. “What he’s not telling you,” I’d say, “Is that he knows all of that stuff only because we’re lazy parents who use the iPad as a babysitter.”
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a family event at a conservation club, the grounds of which had a large building, a shooting range, and a pond for dog races. Having attended several United Kennel Club (UKC) Coonhound events growing up, I recognized the use for the pond right away—at one end of the pond was a tree and at the other, a coop rigged to release multiple dogs at the same time. I watched so many dog races at ponds similar to these, looking at it evoked memories of weekends spent at the coon club watching water races or running around with other kids burying a treasure we had gathered inside an old coffee can. (If you’re curious what a coonhound water race looks like, check out this video.)
My husband and I were both born and raised in the United States but experienced very different childhoods. He also had noticed the pond—oblong, man-made, and obviously serving some purpose—but hadn’t quite figured out its use. As my dad and husband stood around outside, Hubby finally asked him if he knew what the pond was for.
Several months ago I took my children to a coffee shop and treated them to a smoothie. One cup for the two of them to share would be plenty . . . at least I thought so at the time.
Their faces tell the story:
I came across a photograph of myself recently.
I’m standing in a cave somewhere in the Philippines, the turquoise water sloshing against the rock near my feet. I remember that day. I remember getting dressed in the morning—that bikini top I have on with the turquoise trim and yellow and blue stripes (I loved that swimsuit). The short shorts I’m wearing in the picture—I often used them as a cover up for bikini bottoms. I even remember pulling those shorts on that day and noting that they felt smaller—lamenting that I had gained a few extra pounds, that I wasn’t exercising enough anymore, that I was maybe eating (or drinking) a bit too much. I even remember the blue flip flops I have on my feet.
But I don’t remember me. At least not the way I am in the photo. I never looked like that. If there would have ever been one moment when I was actually happy with my body, it would have been then—the previous year I had run three marathons and was in the best shape of my entire life. In the photo, I look youthful—tan, slim, physically fit. Yet all I remember noticing when I looked in the mirror back then were the things I didn’t like.
Memories fade with time. Now I don’t know the truth anymore. Do I trust the photographs or my fickle memories?
The noise never lulled in my childhood home—the TV blared even if no one was watching it, and my father, three siblings, and I never seemed to speak in muted voices—our conversations spewed forth full volume. So when I became old enough to receive telephone calls myself, whoever answered the phone would set the receiver down and bellow my name, each syllable lasting a beat longer than it needed to, “Lonnie.”
If it was a new caller on the other end, I knew the first words they’d say when I picked up the receiver. Every friend who met my family used a derogatory tone to inform me of what they perceived as a grave offense, “He just called you ‘Lonnie.’ That’s a boy’s name. Why did he call you by a boy’s name?”
With all these reminders, even as an elementary student, I was never embarrassed. In fact, I couldn’t understand why they found it such a great misdeed. My friends saw only a little girl whose family addressed her with a boy’s name. But in my own head, the name conjured an image of a handsome man who was deeply loved by his family.
I mentioned in a previous post that I have the best conversations with my son at bedtime. After the lights are turned off and his little brain is unwinding and re-playing and all the thoughts he had in his head during the day, sorting out his questions and observations, we lay in bed together listening to the monotonous noise of the air purifier cleaning the air, and every so often he’ll make a statement or ask a question that provides a little window into his heart. Sometimes his questions make me giggle; other times they make me think.
A while ago he asked me, “Mommy, why do we have so much stuff?”
I never moved as a child. My parents still live in the same house that they lived in when I was born. I graduated with many kids who I remember in my kindergarten and first grade classes. But my own two children, for better or worse, will grow up as third-culture kids. By the time they graduate from high school, they likely will have attended five different schools and will have lived in as many countries. Moving from Korea to China was only the first of several transitions for them.