If I lived in a gingerbread house every day would be sugar-coated, the smell of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger would waft through the house filling my soul and satisfying my taste buds and my neighbors would all have impeccable taste creating a healthy competition in seasonal landscaping. Each night when I would sleep the skies would fill with gum drops and each morning when I would wake fresh snow would fall. I would believe that everything is possible, that dreams come true and all mankind is inherently good because I live in a gingerbread house, after all.
We have celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas in the city many times over the years. Each time there are things that are the same; the floats, balloons, crowds, ice skating, the cold, Santa. And each time there is one thing that is constantly different; the kids. From Lucas’ first to Penny’s first to Oliver’s first each time brings new belief, understanding, complaining and appreciation. No matter how tired we are from lack of sleep, carrying the kids, standing in crowds and navigating amongst the tourists we know that once we are home we’ll only recall the best parts.
Sticky, bubbly, smooth, buttery, stretchy, tacky
Science and creativity
He was 36 when he told his wife, mother to his three young girls, that he wanted something bigger. The American dream was playing in everyone’s mind, including his. The Korean War had ended just twenty years before and Korea was not yet a first world nation. Despite his astute mind his family could not afford him a college education and without a college education opportunities were small and the social climb was impossible. America gave him hope and the promise of fulfilling a different destiny. My mom sold her wedding band to buy the plane tickets and with all their belongings packed into bags they left all they knew for possibility. We quickly moved from low-income housing to an apartment to our very own home, my parents both working blue-collar jobs until the day they retired. If you were to ask my 36 year dad if his American dream was to work as a welder for thirty years I’m sure his arrogance and ambition would shrug that thought away as an impossibility. But if you ask my 84 year old father if his American dream came true I’d imagine he’d say look at what my four children have borne, my dreams were replaced by theirs and each of their successes is mine and each of my eleven grandchildren’s successes are mine. If that isn’t a dream come true I don’t know what is.
He’s been ordering off of the adult menu since he was nine, finding the kids menu too limiting for his refined palette. His tastes, humor and empathy are beyond his years. I often ask his opinion when I’m struggling with something at work. He leans into these discussions and no matter how complex my question he always manages to share something insightful.
Remember that time you blew out Oliver’s birthday candle? We had just finished singing “Happy Birthday” and before Oliver even knew what happened the candle was out. But I knew exactly what happened. With friends and family gathered around, with cameras rolling, this moment was documented forever. Look at Oliver’s and Penny’s faces, still waiting to blow out the candle that is no longer lit. But your face reveals your guilt. You were only five. Just a young child yourself. Unfair to ask you to be fair, unfair to ask you to be considerate of your baby brother, unfair to ask you to practice self-control. And look at my face, but worse, look at my hand. I have loved and hated this photo. I loved it for the honesty and realness of a mother in a moment of little patience with three children five and under and I have hated this photo because it captured me at my worst. Yet looking at this photo now as you turn twelve I have a different appreciation of this photo. Since the day you were born you carry our dreams and expectations. Your five was different than Penny’s five and Oliver’s five.
Ihwa-dong, one of Seoul’s oldest neighborhoods, was once a place of renown. Aristocrats would come visit to take in the splendid scenery. After the Korean War the village became home to squatting refugees, building homes wherever they could and in the late 1950s a National Housing Complex was built. Many of the residents worked in the nearby garment and textile industries but as other neighborhoods prospered in the 80’s and 90’s with high-rise apartment towers, residents started moving away draining the neighborhood’s vitality. Ihwa-dong became a decaying suburb designated for demolition, home to mostly poor families and the elderly.