March 24, 2020
“I want something to eat. I want something Mommy.”
It’s only one week after the NYC public schools shuttered because of the Coronavirus. We are still in complete emergency mode with no plan A or B in sight. We can’t know, because when you’re in it, there’s no such thing as reflection, that “The Pandemic,” has only just begun.
I am here. Home. Trapped on the 30th floor in our glass box, high in the sky, Fort Greene, Brooklyn, apartment.
I am stuck with Emmy, the 3 ½ year old who used to be a picky eater and now is hungry ALL THE TIME.
I am stuck with 2-year-old Rainey, who says to any type of food, “Mere mere mere,” not being able to pronounce the OR to make it MORE.
I am stuck with Remy, our almost 9-year-old pug, who was technically the first born child, who right before lock down or shelter in place, he walked around hunched, back arched–screaming in pain even though no one was touching him. Usually he acts as an emotional bridge taking in all our emotions, but now it’s like he prophesied that soon there will be no more hugs, no more petting, no more comforting allowed.
To round off our family unit, I am stuck with my husband Albert who keeps CNN on all the time and likes to update me on the death toll. Then ends his announcement with,
“We’re all gonna get it. We’re all fucked.”
What does fucked look like? Standing outside of downtown Brooklyn’s Trader Joe’s for an hour, only to realize you should have gotten a sharpie numbered ticket from the start, that’s your price of admission. And then pushing your shopping cart around trying to collect only the necessities because who knows when you’ll be able to come back. Who knows if there will be any food left on the shelves? “Who knows” is your mantra of trying to be all Californian instead of hearing the strict, judgmental Catholic God voice that has ruined your growth mindset.
What does fucked look like? Trying to recover from being triggered by Emmy’s Zoom video call with her 3K classmates. Forty-five minutes every morning of trying to keep Emmy’s face in front of the laptop, building Magna-Tiles or coloring or singing the Hello song. Because it’s the least you can do to show respect to her teachers who have pivoted and adjusted to the unthinkable.
“I am hungry Mommy.”
Emmy’s language has exploded. She can speak in full phrases now. She’s only a year behind. At 2 ½ years old, I first worried that she had a speech delay thanks to Instagram. There’s my friend’s friend on Instagram who is Korean Korean—not my Korean Korean which I called the kids who were born in Korea but came over in middle school or even high school. Like my friend Yukjin, who everyone called, “HEY YOU. You who. Pass the ball.”
Talia is Korean Korean because both her parents are Korean American, 1.5ers. Actually, I don’t know if they are 1.5ers, I shouldn’t assume. Talia was singing the alphabet song when Emmy could barely say more than “Neigh Neigh,” her made up word for milk bottle, because we used to say “Night Night” and she associated the bottle with nighttime and comfort.
Then there was Lucy, my husband’s friend’s daughter who sang and danced to K-pop videos, also Korean Korean. Talia was 2 weeks older than Emmy; Lucy was 2 months younger than Emmy—all 2016 Make America Great Again babies. Yet it was Emmy who wasn’t speaking or singing like her Korean half, singular, plural contemporaries.
I asked our pediatrician, “Do you think she’s behind because she’s not in daycare?”
I didn’t say, I’m a writer and it’s embarrassing to have a nonverbal daughter. I didn’t say that she was mostly with my husband Albert and since most people thought he was nonverbal or mute, because he wasn’t a talker, was that why? And since I’m the verbal one, the communicator in our family, if I was taking care of Emmy fulltime, could this have been prevented? The Dr. wasn’t overly concerned, but I was.
Now Emmy likes to use her words to demand things:
-Mommy. I want pouch.
-Mommy. I want hi-chew.
-Mommy I want yogurt stick.
-Mommy I want apple.
-Mommy I want, I want, I want.
She demands things at the most inconvenient, aka asinine times. Like when I’m pushing the double stroller, halfway across busy Flatbush Ave. This was pre social distancing, when my main concern was beating the red count down: 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2…
That’s when Emmy wails because the food item is not magically appearing in her cookie dough hands.
“EMMY!” I howl over the downtown Brooklyn traffic wind, “MOMMY IS NOT A REFRIGERATOR!!!”
Once safely across the street, I screech the double stroller over to the side, conscious of my wide load and not wanting to block anyone’s path to freedom. This consciousness happens unconsciously. As an Asian American woman, I’m always apologizing, moving out of the way, making myself small, in order to make other white people feel big.
“EMMY!” My voice not positive parenting. I’m bent down in her face, perspiration dripping,
“When Mommy is crossing the street, I can’t give you anything. Do you understand? My hands are busy pushing you across the street, so you don’t die.”
“DO YOU WANT TO DIE?”
This simple death threat rolls naturally off my tongue. My Korean American friend once told me that I sounded sooo Korean saying that. I puffed up with pride. Since I was transracially adopted from South Korea at the age of almost 3 years old by my strong, independent white mother, anytime my inherited Koreanness was seen, it meant so much. It meant that even though I was taken from Korea, the Korean in me could never be taken. It meant that nature was winning over nurture.
I remember receiving the book, “Toddlers Are Assholes,” as a gift during Emmy’s baby shower. I was in the 8-month, first baby pregnancy glow of everyone pretending that my life wasn’t about to end. And I would be sentenced to solitary Mommy confinement until she turned 5. I thought it was funny at the time. Now I understand that there is nothing funny about the toddler years.
Being a mom to toddlers is like being a glorified servant, always on call. Some mouth is always demanding—feed me. Fill me. I’m hungry.
–Would you like sausage or oatmeal?
–Will you eat all the egg white from my fried egg and only leave the dry, gross egg yolk that no one wants, including me?
–Will you eat my ham sandwich even though you’ve had three lunches and I haven’t eaten breakfast or lunch yet?
–Will you drink my Starbucks Grande Shaken Iced Tea Lemonade that costs $5.45? That I’ve been craving for hours, that is my only shitty payment in this bullshit job called motherhood?
Out of all the demeaning, thankless tasks of motherhood, I hate cooking and food providing the most. I blame this solely on my mother.
I am 17, a junior in high school. One more year until I’m a senior—the pinnacle of my YA youth. Young Adult, a genre that I will madly fall in love with while getting my MFA that will counterbalance the sad, grief memoir that I’m writing about my mom dying and abandoning me completely.
I have my headset on, clutching my black Walkman, Tiffany crying out—I think we’re alone now.
“Lynne, grab the corn.”
My mom is standing at the stove, spatula in hand, flicking the ground beef like it’s a dead body. The other hand, fisted at her hip.
She hates cooking. As a single by choice, full-time working mother, she only cooked meals 30 minutes and under to make. Everything comes from a box, a can or is frozen. Nothing is made from scratch.
I pull out a frozen bag of corn from the freezer. Even though we live in New Jersey, the birthplace of corn, it’s never fresh corn on the cobb, stripped and boiled, then each kernel decapitated. Because duh, that would take too long.
I hand the bag to my mother.
It’s a Wednesday. It’s Goulash dinner night.
I think we’re alone now.
The main star of the dish—Spanish Rice-A-Roni, the San Franciscan treat. When I moved to San Francisco, at the age of 26, this would be my only reference. That and the TV show Full House.
Rice-A-Roni comes in a thin rectangular box. There are 1, 2, 3 instructions on the back. Don’t forgot the 8oz canned stewed tomatoes that gives the rice moistness. This fake rice simmers in a separate pot. Growing up with my Irish, white mother, I didn’t know about rice cookers, an assumed fixture in a real Asian family’s home. I only knew Rice-A-Roni and thought all rice came with a flavor packet.
Corn is last to go in.
My mother and I sit at the round dining room table. I’m telling her about my latest soccer playing, tall, white lanky boy crush. We eat Goulash like a tennis match. It’s 30 Love.
March 24, 2020
It’s finally nighttime. I’ve got Emmy tucked on my left side and Rainey on my right in their bedtime reading chair, our various leg lengths extended on the matching ottoman. The handmade quilt from Mrs. Ito covering us. We’re reading my all-time favorite children’s book, Bi Bim Bop. What I like about the book, compared to say The Mitten or The Snowy Day—which are way too long to read pre-bedtime, is it’s short, it rhymes and it’s short.
This book about a Korean family—Umma (mom), Appa (Dad), Aigee Hyung (baby brother) and Halmoni (Grandma)—was gifted to me twice. Once when Emmy was born and then again when Rainey stormed into the picture. Both were given by my Korean American friends. And I didn’t read it seriously until recently.
For Emmy’s first year of life, I read Good Night Moon. Every night, 365 days. By the time she turned 1 year old, I had it memorized like the Our Father prayer—the only prayer that I still remember and get excited for the moment during Catholic Mass with Aunt Jane when I too can be in sync with the rest of the kneeling congregation. I get excited the same way when the Electric Slide song plays at prom, or any wedding throughout my twenties that wasn’t mine.
Hurry Mama hurry, gotta chop chop chop.
Hungry very hungry, for some bibimbop!
Growing up I can’t remember a time when my mom read to me as a child. Even though my mom was a librarian. Even though I’d become a writer in the future.
But if I did remember what I can’t remember, I know my mom would not have picked Bibimbop. Because she was not Korean. And even though I was Korean (but never seen as Korean)—everything about Bibimbop did not reflect our family. Because there was no Appa, no siblings, no Halmoni. And she was not my Umma. She was my mother, mommy, mom and ma. But she was not Umma.
MIX, MIX, MIX like crazy! Time for Bi Bim Bop!
Throughout my childhood, my mom made Goulash once a week. After she died, I would make Goulash. Because it was easy. Because it was the only recipe I had memorized. Because it made me feel comforted and loved. From the insides then out.
Goulash tastes like . . . not Bi bim Bop. Not Mexican food, or Indian, or any country offering a rice pot dish. It tasted—like my mom.
When I was pregnant with Emmy—all I craved was Goulash. I craved it because I craved my dead mother. I needed her to fill the bottomless, black hole that soon I’d be filling for my daughters.
Mommy. I am hungry.
As a lost Korean adoptee, Lynne Connor writes on themes of identity, grief, race, home & belonging. She received her MFA in Creative Non-Fiction from Mills College and has been published in Raising Mothers Magazine, Mom Egg Review, Gazillion Voices Magazine, Kartika Review, Adoption Today Magazine, and has forthcoming writing in Womanist Literary Journal, as well as in the Art Book ROOTS: Korean Diaspora. She’s a certified Amherst Writers & Artists affiliate leading writing workshops through Lost Lit. She resides in Brooklyn, NY with her husband Grumpy Bert, young daughters Emmy and Rainey and furry son pug Remy. Follow her on Instagram: @lynnecwrites.