Thursday, October 6, 2011

Middle Aged Mom @ New Seoul Garden

Adventures in Transracial Parenting
Lily, my 15 year-old Chinese American daughter, made plans to visit a Korean restaurant with her best-friend and a couple of Asian school-mates. I had been wanting to go to New Seoul Garden for ages, so I made reservations for the same evening and brought along her best-friend’s entire family. Our parent table was smack next to the teen table, but amazingly, this was acceptable. Interesting what a teen will let you get away with if you’re bringing money and a Groupon coupon to the party…

The teens had a native Korean speaker with them and basically had their food on the table before my table had figured out the menu. I knew I would have to beg for some menu interpretation help (“and how exactly spicy is very spicy, Jaejoon?”), so I quickly lobbed my foodie questions over to the teens before they shut down on me completely. It worked for a question or two (“explain Chookumi-Bokeum please”) before I got the universal teen vague-look-with-shrug answer. BTW, for future Korean restaurant reference, very spicy means find yourself a burn unit.

My group, three “older parents” and two little boys under ten, had a very exciting time with the traditional grill built into our very low, wooden table. We managed to order ourselves some bulgolgi and grilled the raw beef with our own Iron Chef flair. Because we couldn’t figure out how to turn the table-stove off, we just kept on grilling.

“Hurry up and eat it” said my friend Sam, frantically scooping up well-done bits o’ beef and dumping them on my plate. “Before it catches on fire.”

My mouth was already on fire. A beautiful vegetable tray arrived with our meat, and it featured a tasty kimchi dish. I love cabbage, but this was kimchi stealth cabbage and I was having trouble breathing normally.

“Maybe I need a Korean beer” I gasped to my cohort, and we vainly looked around for a waiter brave enough to come our way.

“I’ll go find our server” Sam volunteered. His wife, Laura, and I watched with real interest as Sam attempted to rise from his floor cushion.  It wasn’t happening, and Sam was in danger of taking a header into the grill.

“Never mind, Sam,” I said. “I’ll go.” I manually uncrossed my legs and made lurching motions away from the table.

“What are you waiting for?” Laura asked.

“For feeling.” I answered. “In my legs. Any kind of feeling.”

The teens gracefully got to their feet while laughing and chatting, and stopping by our table, announced that they were off to the movies. I was relieved they were leaving, because I knew that New Seoul Garden wasn’t finished with my table and the only possible outcome was embarrassment.

“Are they gone?” asked Sam. I glanced across the table at my friend, who was now on all fours. So far, the elegant diners in the other alcove hadn’t noticed us yet, but between the grill fire and us rolling around on the floor I figured it was a matter of time.

I envied the casual, comfortable way Korean adults handled the restaurant’s traditional seating arrangements. The Korean families looked happy…like they could enjoy a good Hwoe-Dupbap, get up from their foot-high table and their legs would still work.

“I think we’re too old to eat here”, I said seriously. Sam was crawling furiously toward a server’s tray stand.

“Sam, get UP,” his wife hissed. “Just ask for the check. We’re scaring people.”

“Look,” I added. “It’s like Sam found himself a walker.” Laura and I sat open-mouthed as Sam grabbed the tray stand with both hands and heaved to his feet.

It felt like a miracle-cure tabernacle moment (“Our brother WALKS!”) and I know Laura and I would have appreciated the splendid humor of the moment more fully if we had been able to stand up ourselves. As it was, rigor mortis was cramping our style.

“If you move I could get to the bathroom,” Laura said pointedly.

“Don’t kid yourself,” I told her. “A bathroom is not in your immediate future. I’m pretty sure we’ll both be right here in the morning.”

My cell-phone rang. It was Lily, checking in from the movie theater.

“Mom? Are guys still at the restaurant?”

“Yes.” I babbled. “We’re enjoying our food... leisurely dining… so tough to leave.” I giggled helplessly into the phone while watching Laura’s two little boys fight to get her to her feet. “And Lily,” I added. “Sweetie…don’t wait up.”

My daughter finally broke her mystified silence. “Mom? Have you guys been drinking?” 

I examined my options. I could pretend to be an irresponsible social drinker, or I could be outed as a pathetic middle-ager clearly in need of assisted living.

“Yep. Alcohol. Lots of it,” I admitted happily. “G-T-G. Partyyyyyyy!”

By Jean MacLeod
Copyright 2011, MacLeod, All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Catch Them Before They Fall

Connor is the kind of guy every mom wants her daughter to someday meet and marry! Handsome, funny, smart, kind, wealthy and charismatic: Connor has plenty of friends and the respect of his private school teachers (Ivy League recruiters are already beating down his door). He is the all-American ‘golden’ boy, and it is very easy to forget that he is only 17.

Was. Was only 17.

He was only 17 when he jumped to his death last month, alone, at 3:00 a.m. from the cold, snowy roof of a luxury apartment building near his elite, college prep boarding school. He left a note to his parents, apologizing.

Two nights earlier he had been stopped by the police while driving friends back to school after a classmate’s birthday party. He was issued a DUI; his parents were notified by an officer’s long-distance phone call, and were understandably upset.

Drinking and driving? What were you thinking? his parents might have said (I would have). Perhaps followed by:

You think you’ll get into Harvard with a DUI on your record?! (This would be parental fear and hurt talking). Plus, maybe even:

You’ve let everyone down. We thought you were responsible and we are very disappointed. The typical parental script.

Unfortunately, Connor’s parents were many states away and couldn’t put their arms around him for a hug once their anger died down. They couldn’t look him in the eye and tell him that no-matter-what he was loved, and that there was no problem in the world that couldn’t be tackled together. Programmed from birth for success, the drunk-driving ticket was an unprecedented first misstep for Connor… but he was sober when he walked off the high-rise two nights later. He suffered the pain and despair of letting down his world, silently. There was no one to stop his fall, no one to ‘catch’ him before he jumped.

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem his parents would have told him.

You have other options, they would have added. Sure, we’re upset, but we’ll stand next to you and we’ll get through this together. Plus, probably even:

Every single person on this earth has made at least one stupid mistake. You learn from a mistake, rectify what you can, and are a better, stronger person for the experience. I am proud of you for stepping up.

No one expects their teen-ager to commit suicide. What we forget is that our smart, high-achieving, responsible high-schoolers are still in transit from childhood: their brain neurology is in process, their emotions are in flux. Our teens are not equipped to take the long view and discern what is truly life-altering -- or what is merely a tiny glitch in the grand scheme of being.

Teens live in the intensity of the moment, and their narrow parameters are school, friends and family. Parents draw the boundaries and the expectations. Sometimes we forget to tell our children that our ‘boundaries’ have flexible walls, and that our ‘expectations’ are really declarations of confidence bolstered by our parental love and support. Sometimes we forget that our teens still need us to ‘catch’ them emotionally when they fall, or fail, and that we need to guide them toward healthy problem-solving.

Suicide may become a viable exit for the teen that is depressed; bullied; socially awkward; stressed and anxious; or a substance abuser. It may become a choice for a teen that sees no way out of intolerable feelings or devastating circumstances, or, who hasn’t had the experience to internalize the idea that time has a way of changing out all ‘hopeless’ situations.

For some teenagers, normal developmental changes, when compounded by other events or changes in their families such as divorce or moving to a new community, changes in friendships, difficulties in school, or other losses can be very upsetting and can become overwhelming. Problems may appear too difficult or embarrassing to overcome. For some, suicide may seem like a solution.” (Ohio State University Medical Center

Playing at ‘catch’ means parenting to our darkest fear, but we must bravely talk with our teens NOW about handling painful feelings, stupid mistakes or seemingly unbearable situations. We can state, demonstrate and reinforce our unfaltering presence in our children’s lives and openly address suicide alternatives -- and why death  is not part of a healthy teen’s arsenal of solutions.

We can voice over and over what Connor’s parents weren’t given a second chance to say:

I will never be disappointed by the essential you. There is nothing you can do that would make me stop loving you. There is nothing that you could do or feel that we couldn’t get through together. You have options, you have a wonderful future and I will help you find your way there.

By Jean MacLeod
Copyright 2011, MacLeod, All Rights Reserved
*Note: Name of teen has been changed for privacy


Teen Suicide (Warning Signs, Treatment, Prevention) from The Ohio State University Medical Center

The Teenage Brain: Why adolescents sleep in, take risks, and won’t listen to reason
by Nora Underwood in The WALRUS

How to Talk to Your Teens: Exploring the Stuck Spots
by Debbie B. Riley, M.S. in Adoption TODAY Magazine

Adoption Toolbox Tween & Teen Articles

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

OUT: Tiger Mom -- IN: Panda Mom

MY take on Amy Chua, Tiger Mom? She’s crazed about all of the wrong things. Her dedication to her children’s success is crushingly over the top, however admirable for its ferocity. What Tiger Mom wouldn’t want an Ivy League college, Carnegie Hall debut, Power Marriage and a Career  Ruling the World for her own tiger cub? A good Tiger Mom dedicates her adult life to beating her dedication into her children…but Amy Chua COMPLETELY overlooks the true meaning of parenting success.

Introducing: Panda Mom.

Let me give you an example: Me.

Like many other of my Panda Mom peers, I’ve put on a few older-mom pounds (DAMN you menopause!). Listen ladies, it makes us all the more adorable; no one likes a skinny panda. Plus, I’m at my very best perfecting creative laziness…feet up on my Baker lounger, directing life, eating unhealthy snack foods. I’m sure you can draw the blissful panda picture, but you may be wondering how my personal panda savoir-faire relates to parenting...

Creative laziness
forces Panda Moms to teach their panda cubs how to Make Mama Happy. For the cubs, making-mama-happy means getting grades just good enough so that Mama Panda doesn’t have to make the effort to hire a tutor, or attend dark meetings with teachers and school counselors. It means that homework and projects get done quickly and simply, so Mama Panda doesn’t have to come unglued reminding her cubs about due dates - or go broke hiring an electrical engineer to wire the Michigan Lighthouse for the 5th grade science expo.

Panda Moms teach their cubs how to make a lunch, dust a room and throw in a load of clothes at an early age. These accomplishments create an entrepreneurial spirit in a cub, an “I can DO that!” attitude that is cosseted and encouraged through…well, servitude. Better living through live-in help, I always say! My Panda Mom job is to guide my children toward their full potential… without losing my mind, scarring future generations or cleaning the cat box (cub job).

“Don’t Make My Life Hard”
is the number one Panda Mom Mantra. Children who drink, do drugs, run with a bad crowd and forget their violin on orchestra day make my life hard. My three cubs know this, and they mostly abide by panda parenting tenets. On the days they don’t? I go to Wolong in my head, and slowly waddle across a verdant, Chinese mountainside. I search for inner fortitude, for grace from the Ancients and for a tasty bite of deep-fried bamboo shoot. This usually brings me back to my senses, and reminds me of the secret, defining equation of true panda parenting victory:

Happy Mom + Happy Cubs = Success!

Why do the Big Cats have to make it sooo difficult?

By Jean MacLeod

Copyright 2011, MacLeod, All Rights Reserved