Come Celebrate

This poem by Lucille Clifton found me at just the right time, on another birthday:

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

Love Her To La Luna And Back

Photo credit: Jun Michael Park

Just like that, she’s one. Luna’s sisters, Eva and Isa, helped her blow out her birthday candle. But Luna took charge of the doljabi ceremony, which went differently than Isa’s. (The tradition is that on your first birthday you choose an item from a “destiny platter” representing a future career or life.) Isa went straight for the microphone and held on tight. Luna touched the soccer ball, and then something else, but dropped them quickly before choosing a wad of Korean money and really committing to it.

All our babies were smiley, but Luna is probably the smiliest. She’s also the picture of serenity. She’s surrounded by a sustained level of chaos in the form of her sisters at all times, but she just goes on, stuffing strawberries in her face, trying to share them, padding around on all fours, trying out new toys by putting them in her mouth, all completely unaffected by whatever screaming fits or tantrums are going on her around her. These days Luna enjoys trying to walk by cruising around, holding onto furniture, chasing our cat Caesar, and feeding herself — she has always been interested in feeding herself while her middle sister Isa still loves it when other people feed her. People have different preferences.

What I’ll remember: The feeling of newborn Luna’s wispy hair tickling my chin when she nuzzled on my chest to sleep. Her tiny Gremlin noises in those first weeks. Her dive-bombing a boob for a snack. Her simultaneous hiccup + fart situation that went on until she was about three months old. Her star turn in the most popular of the Elise Tries videos.

This is the first time since October 2014 that I have not been pregnant with, or nursing, a child. I feel a new freedom and a sentimental melancholy at once. I’m adjusting to being “just me” again and so grateful for what my body has produced, ceaselessly, for three-and-a-half years. So much production of one thing or another! I probably should take vitamins.

So overjoyed she chose a wad of cash instead of a pencil or microphone, which would represent her good-for-nothing parents’ professions

Five For Fighting

My oldest daughter, Eva, turns five on Friday. We celebrated by inviting her entire class to the Vaunce Trampoline Park in Gangnam for bouncing and ball pits and food. They were running around like whirling dervishes and we parents scavenged for leftovers afterward because the kids didn’t eat any of the plates of ribs that were served, instead going for fried chicken, fries, pasta and pizza. (Silly kids, they didn’t realize the ribs were the best.)

My mom talks about how she still remembers the day I was born like it was yesterday, so I guess it’s completely normal to feel like no time has gone by since the day baby Eva and I cooperated to bring her into the world in 2012. Time is so elastic — it feels both near and far, depending on how you look at it.

I remember Eva nursing until she got “milk drunk” and her big head flopping back into my arm nook. I remember watching a presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney while doing laundry while Eva was just a few weeks old, and Obama seeming so unprepared that pundits flipped out, thinking he was going to lose the election. I remember taking baby Eva to Costco in a Moby wrap, which I only use when the newborns are less than four weeks old because it’s the only time those wraps are comfortable. I remember how confident she made me feel about motherhood because she was just a really easy baby.

Eva is a much more high maintenance kindergartner, now. She is a natural artist and creative with her imagination and play, she is loud and boisterous and constantly irritated by her sister, Isa, who really has a sly way of getting under Eva’s skin. She loves to explore Google maps, particularly the Street View feature, and, owing to a lot of travel, is really at home in hotels. When she plays make believe, we often have to make believe we are at the gate of an airport, going on a trip to Japan. Eva also loves meetings and a certain order to things, and my mom thinks this is because she’s a Virgo. She likes agendas and lists and checking items off on lists. It doesn’t matter if it’s a to-do list, a grocery list, ingredients for muffins, the girl loves lists.

Happiest of Birthdays to Eva. Just like that, she’s five years old.

The Egg Roll/Rolling Egg Tradition

Today is what my friend Anna calls “The Day After The Day Of The Shining Star,” because my birthday follows former North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il’s. (Kim’s birthday is the “Day of the Shining Star,” so I get “The Day After,” naturally. Along with Michael Jordan, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Paris Hilton and my birthday besties John and April.)

I can’t believe I’ve never written about my family’s birthday tradition! I guess now’s a good time. The tradition is the egg roll, or an egg rolling, to be precise. Not the fried appetizer, but an actual rolling of a hard-boiled egg down the birthday girl’s body, from head to toe and down each limb, to roll away any negativity or bad vibes from the year before. Then you crack open the egg and eat it for birthday breakfast.

Here’s my mom doing it for me in Taipei a couple years ago. While rolling the egg, the elder talks the whole time, wishing away all the sadness or badness. I always get emotional when I happen to be with my mom and she can actually roll the egg for me like when I was little.

In my adulthood, sometimes I’m not with mom or dad or grandma on my birthday, and so my husband has to roll the egg for me, which causes him great anxiety. On my 28th birthday, his egg-rolling-anxiety caused a GIANT FIGHT between us that lasted for two or three days.

There is a lot of superstition tied to egg rolling, too. On my 19th birthday, everyone forgot to roll my egg for me. It was then one of the worst years of my life, to this day. Before my 32nd birthday, I happened to be in Taipei a few weeks ahead of Feb 17 so my mom planned to roll my egg for me before I headed to the airport. But the eggs didn’t boil in time, so we had to go downstairs to the 7-11 and improvise with a tea-egg (the shells of which are already cracked, since they’re braising in tea). Mom rolled me with the tea egg, but tea eggs don’t work! I went home and had a miscarriage and my au pair quit in some high drama involving her OK Cupid boyfriend and it was just Not. A. Great. Start. To. My. Year. So my dad came to DC and re-rolled my egg, and instantly things turned a corner.

That is the power of the egg roll.

If I’m REALLY lucky, I happen to be with my 94-year old grandma around my birthday, and SHE can do the egg roll, which is the luckiest egg roll of all. But her primary egg roll responsibilities are her own kids: Aunt Linda, Uncle Steve and my momma.

This year Matty had my egg ready for rolling first thing in the morning, and my daughter Eva was so psyched to see this weird thing happening that she insisted on being lifted up so she, too, could help roll the egg. Later my Seoul girlfriends joined me for a day at the spa, since I’m a little limited in my partying this year due to being eight-months preggo. Buy my sweet friend Sarah flew her ass in from Singapore to spend the day and weekend with me, which means a whole lot. I missed our times together and we’re doing some quality catching-up.

NOTE: I have no idea where this tradition comes from. It’s just been passed down my mom’s side of the family. I have yet to start doing it for my daughters, but I think I will this fall when Eva turns five.

Happy First Birthday, Isabel Rock!

They say it is my birthday (Cake cake cake cake cake cake)
They say it is my birthday (Cake cake cake cake cake cake). Photo by Just September

While Isa isn’t Korean, she WAS born in Seoul last summer, so we followed Korean tradition and did a doljabi ceremony for her.

Isa selects from a destiny platter.
Isa selects from a destiny platter.

Under the tradition, the one-year old gets a “destiny table” of items to choose from that align with various professions — stethoscope, computer mouse, pencil, money, etc. She went for the microphone without hesitation. But then followed up with her second choice, a gavel.

With her microphone.
With her microphone.

Following American tradition, there was an incident with fire and cake, in which she straight up took her hand and grabbed the flame. Mistakes were made.

Whoops. She recovered after touching fire.
Whoops. She recovered after touching fire.

Isa is my second daughter and as many of you know, she’s a rainbow baby, born after two miscarriages in a row. She’s been a superpower sunshine since she was born — the smiliest, snuggliest and sweetest blessing. We love her goofy tendencies: putting her full face into everything she wants to investigate (like the cats) and sniff them violently like Mary Katherine Gallagher, her ravenous appetite but shockingly slow eating, her growl and her laugh (which is a combined laugh-growl), and her obsession with putting items around her neck — necklaces, purses, headphones. Mostly headphones. We love you, Isa. You truly rock.

Three-Way Birthdays To Remember

My last night in Austin was in February 2011, a week before our birthday. The karaoke goodbye at Do512 HQ was thrown in part by John and April, so this was our de facto final three-way party.
My last night in Austin was in February 2011, a week before our birthday. The karaoke goodbye at Do512 HQ was thrown in part by John and April, so this was our de facto final three-way party.

There is no annual gathering that’s more special to me than the now-defunct “Three-Way Birthday” parties of my Austin years. For five years in my twenties, I celebrated my birthday with two other Texas politcal reporters who also were born on February 17th — my besties April Castro and John Moritz. We are the dancing-on-bartops together (April) and buy-homes-from-one-another (I bought John’s house) kind of close friends. Our friendship was born out of many inside jokes, lunches at the Texas Chili Parlor (which makes a CHEESEBURGER SALAD), drinks at the Stephen F. Austin hotel, and long nights at the Texas Capitol, staking out one politician or another, or listening to the endless chubbing of lawmakers stalling votes or adding amendments to amendments to the budget bill. And, of course, our annual birthday ritual fueled memories for always.

I suppose I moved away first, so maybe it’s all my fault, but now we are in three different countries. John remains in Austin, Texas, but I weirdly live in South Korea and April recently relocated to Canada. I think of them often, and miss them often, but never as much as I do on our birthday. (This just reminded me: One year, a Texas lawmaker who was ALSO born on February 17 did one of those honorary resolutions on the House floor to recognize us for our birthday, probably just because it was also his day, but anyway, it was pretty amusing.)

I met April in a committee room at the Texas Capitol, and John on my first day on the beat as a Texas political reporter. We quickly learned we shared a birthday. This is a snap from our very first joint birthday party, in 2007.
I met April in a committee room at the Texas Capitol, and John on my first day on the beat as a Texas political reporter. We quickly learned we shared a birthday. This is a snap from our very first joint birthday party, in 2007.

The 2008 party is memorable because it didn’t happen, and we can blame Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for that. We were political reporters, and Obama and Clinton were locked in such a tight battle at that point because Obama hoped to lock up the nomination in Texas/Ohio, that we were working nonstop. On the night of our party, Obama held a rally in downtown Austin in which something like 30,000 people showed up. We had to cancel the party at the last minute because we had to cover the rally.

The invite to a party that didn't happen. When we made the invite campaign-themed, we didn't know that the Obama campaign would be the reason our party got canceled.
The invite to a party that didn’t happen. When we made the invite campaign-themed, we didn’t know that the Obama campaign would be the reason our party got canceled.
Every year for the big party we'd send out invitations in which we'd combine our three ages. In 2009, we turned 112.
Every year for the big party, we’d send out invitations in which we’d combine our three ages. In 2009, we turned 112.
In 2010, we threw our swankiest party, at a bungalow that's part of Hotel St. Cecelia. After years of throwing "three-way's," we actually had a bed at our party venue.
In 2010, we threw our swankiest party, at a bungalow that’s part of Hotel St. Cecelia. After years of throwing “three-way’s,” we actually had a bed at our party venue.

Happiest of birthdays to my partners-in-mischief and fellow February 17thers. I miss you and treasure our shared birthday memories.

Can’t stop, won’t stop grooving

Eva at three.
Eva at three.

Happy 3rd Birthday to my pretty young thing, the baby who blasted into the world and made me a momma.

In the year since her last birthday, Eva has had to leave the only home she knew and move to the other side of the planet, start at three different schools, adapt to a foreign country, say goodbye to her nanny and become a big sister. She’s done it all with joy and pluck, and the giant smile that melts me every time.

Bounce Bounce Bounce Bounced To Miami For My Birthday

Michael and Chris have become two of my closest compadres in my thirties, so I feel so lucky to have spent my b-day with them.
Michael and Chris have become two of my closest compadres in my thirties, so I feel so lucky to have spent my b-day with them.

My semi-annual trip to Miami for my side-hustle collided with my birthday weekend. Just like I like it, absurdity ensued.

I’m really fortunate to have a crew of brilliant and hilarious friends down in the 3-0-5, so Friend Chris organized a whole day/night featuring my favorite activities: beachtime, sunshine, pooltime, delicious cocktails, celebrity sightings, Justin, meat and cheese, Korean liquor, the 90’s and private karaoke. These are some things that happened:

Just seeing the glowing orb they call the sun was pretty amazing.
Just seeing the glowing orb they call the sun was pretty amazing.

Justin, my partner-in-crime, came down for the shenanigans and while we were catching up at Starbucks, Jesse Something, The Bachelor circa 2004, walked in. He’s still on TV as an ESPN commentator, and he paused at the sugar/cream station and kept looking at me as if he either knew me or was waiting for me to realize who he was, but it took me too long. Wah-wah. I didn’t get to invite him to my birthday party.

After getting drunk on the beach thanks to a pitcher of some refreshing vodka concoction, we decided to do some poolside time at Soho House even though the water was flooded with children. I looked left and BAM! Spotted Sofia Coppola reading a magazine just a few chairs down from us. I was too chicken to say anything to her, so Justin and I took weird surreptitious photos. Then we noticed her husband — the lead singer of Phoenix — and her daughters, playing in the water. We avoided taking sketchy photos of the kids.

The Coors Light ladies gave us free bead medallions which I will treasure forever.
The Coors Light ladies gave us free bead medallions which I will treasure forever.

Tim Elfrink (who just won a Polk Award, woot) lives in Miami, and our mutual Mizzou friend Nick was also in Florida escaping DC’s wintry gloom, so they joined in on festivities. We started at a divey pool bar with excellent cheesesteaks and $5 drinks.

We got some ridiculous Coors swag and posed with the beer girls. Then we had to drink some free Coors Light.

Tucked away in our private-karaoke room by midnight, these are some of the selections performed by the group to celebrate the 1990’s, my halcyon days of youth:

“Birdhouse in your Soul” They Might Be Giants
“Spiderwebs” No Doubt
“Always be my Baby” Mariah Carey
“The Sign” Ace of Base
“Livin’ La Vida Loca” Ricky Martin
“Man in the Mirror” Michael Jackson
“Callin’ Baton Rouge” Garth Brooks
“Unpretty” TLC
“Too Close” Next
“Mmmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” Crash Test Dummies
“Thong Song” Cisco

So much fun.
So much fun.

Despite four attempts by different people, the song system was unable to choose R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” which is infinitely superior to what kept coming up — just plain ol’ “Ignition.”

Karaoke participants — on four separate occasions — chose R. Kelly’s “Ignition,” which is an inferior song that is most definitely not the catchy, viral “Ignition Remix” of 2003. Then I came home and discovered Jimmy Fallon had sang it for us.

While squished on our leather karaoke room couch for 12, pal Michael and I went through two and a half bottles of soju on our own. I think Justin enjoyed his own bottle on the other side of our karaoke coffee table. He nursed a hangover for two days, since we started drinking some kind of refreshing vodka stuff around 3pm that afternoon.

Rebekah Monson is my favorite new friend of 2013. We killed it on some Garth Brooks together.
Rebekah Monson is my favorite new friend of 2013. We killed it on some Garth Brooks together.

There is something involving 3am sandwiches at some famous place on South Beach, but I don’t remember it clearly except that Justin awoke the next morning with two of those sandwiches in bed with him.

On the actual night of the birthday, Michael Maness took me out to a smokey dive bar where he got to control the jukebox. Yes, there was David Allan Coe. And yes, we did stop to eat 1am Cuban sandwiches on the street. Happy birthday, indeed.

Happy 15th Birthday, Saidee

My momma's beagle.
My momma’s beagle.

For all my Texas pride, Saidee’s the only member of the Hu family that is a living, breathing Texas native. She was born in Grand Prairie, the runt of the litter. I remember her dog father being a show dog named “Copper Mountain Cody” — all the official AKC show dogs in her lineage were named by the street they called home.

I was a junior in high school at the time and, knowing I’d be leaving home for college the next year, scoured the classifieds to find a puppy daughter for my dog-loving mom. We hadn’t had a dog in our house since the unfortunate and painful hit-and-run death of my cocker spaniel, when I was 12.

My best friend Erin helped me choose Saidee — we drove out to Grand Prairie in my red Jeep Cherokee and visited the litter, which included three boisterous boys and one girl who seemed to struggle getting to feed as much as her brothers. She also had more brown in her coloring and an identifiable spot, so I picked her out and called dibs until she was old enough to come home. I snuck her into the house in my coat pocket — it was Christmas-time, 15 years ago — and presented her to my mom later that night.

We all fell in love. Saidee lived with my parents until my mom was transferred abroad, at which point she lived with my brother Roger and his then-girlfriend Tracy, in Tucson. She moved in with me and Matty in 2007 and has been with us ever since. In her 15 years, she’s lived in four states, survived a cancer scare, ran away and returned at least five times*, moved across the country by plane and car half a dozen times, explored the nation’s monuments, trekked through the Appalachian mountains, eaten everything that she shouldn’t have, put up with a total of four cats and now, a toddler.

When I got Saidee, I was a girl. Now I have a little girl of my own. We truly grew up together. I don’t mean this to diminish parenting a human in any way, but so much of my confidence as a momma came from learning how to really relate with Saidee and meet her needs over these past 15 years.

Now that she’s 15, she spends most of her days sleeping, has gone deaf in both her ears and is vision impaired, too. But she’s still spirited and spry — getting hyper and running around in circles when we come home, rolling around on her back for belly rubs, tirelessly rearranging herself in bed in order to snag the perfect spot, which somehow always seems to take up a lot more space than her 23 lb body would let on.

Happy Birthday, Saidee. I love you.

*In the most ridiculous Saidee runaway story, Saidee ran away to the home of another Asian-American woman in St. Louis, where she was living at the time. The woman renamed her “DuDu Peng” for the days they were together. I only know this because she took Saidee to the vet for her lifelong affliction with skin allergies, and got a prescription. My dad only tracked down Saidee because he was out at an intersection putting up Lost signs and across the street, his friend spotted “Found” signs showing Saidee/Dudu’s image.

This February 17th, A Chance to Give Thanks

Midway through our homemade version of the game Taboo, which featured disgraced politicians, sports stars and entertainers.
Midway through our homemade version of the game Taboo, which featured disgraced politicians, sports stars and entertainers.

Feeling too lazy and overwhelmed by a short month that included returning to work after maternity leave, two trips to Miami and the heartbreaking season finale of Downton Abbey, I barely wanted to celebrate my birthday this year. Too. Tired.

It’s a definite shift from the annual norm, since for all five of the birthdays I spent in Austin, my fellow February 17th-ers  and I would throw a massive “Three-Way”  birthday bash that got bigger and more drunken with each passing year. And last year was the unforgettable (and also libation-laden) birthday week in Costa Rica.

So this was the hangover birthday year, if you will.

But my spouse Stiles still managed to make the day quite lovely by inviting a few of my favorite people over to eat brisket and birthday cake. And play a competitive team game in which we all pitched in to provide the content. And watch “classic” YouTube videos together on our big TV. (Grape lady, anyone?)

While I’m overwhelmed by life this month, I also feel overwhelmed by gratitude. My friends and family members are adventure partners, life coaches and constant inspiration. So I want to take this birthday evening to say THANK YOU:

Continue reading “This February 17th, A Chance to Give Thanks”