Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘adventures in feminist parenting’

[From my continuing series of letters to Dragon 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

January 17, 2013

Dear Dragon

It’s hard to pinpoint what I have learned to love best about you, but if I had to choose, I think it would be how social you are. You always were an alert one, an inquisitive one, an extrovert who loved to flirt with café goers and fellow bus travelers on our many trips out, but your love for interacting with other seems to grow with time and experience.

Perhaps the most adorable of all interactions is with other kids. Daycare has made you so bold and brave in your belief that everyone is your friend. You see other children, and your eyes light up while you reach out and squeal out greetings. And what I love most is that you don’t care the age, you don’t care the sex, you don’t care the ethnicity or language abilities. You don’t care if they respond back or recoil in confusion. You just give of yourself and find joy in seeing others. I hope that as you grow older, as the world around you starts to categorize and label and respond based on categories and labels, that you will not lose this perfect acceptance of those around you. I hope you continue to reach out to everyone whether they look or talk like you.

And one of the most endearing parts of this side of you is that you have been exploring disability the past few weeks with your Auntie’s crutches. Granted, you find it difficult to avoid bouncing into her broken ankle with your continuous energy, but you find her crutches and her gait endlessly fascinating. You aren’t scared or embarrassed or reluctant when it comes to disabilities. As with children, people are people are people in your world. You just want to know more and understand and explore. As you grow, may you never lose your ability to see the beauty of difference.

And one more thing little Dragon. I love watching when kids don’t react positively to you. Am I strange? I love you even more because you.don’t.care. You don’t care if an older child thinks you’re just a silly baby, or a younger baby doesn’t babble back, or a kid points at you and calls you a foreigner. You move on to the next more receptive child. You still flash as bright a smile at the next one. You never lose your joy at seeing other kids. You carry on despite the reaction. May you always keep your ability to love and socialize no matter what the response. If kids find you too different in the future, may you never fear the next interaction. May you continue to put yourself out there, to love, to learn, to explore, to flash your smile.

May your limitless love teach me to do the same.

Xo
mum

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

My return to work post-mat leave has been good all things considered. I mean, the double burden is an insane burden, and re-signing season is upon us, so I shouldn’t be too confident until I have my new contract in hand. However, the office has been supportive thus far of my return, my coworkers don’t complain about the stockpile of frozen breast milk in the fridge, and my job allows me to split my day almost evenly between baby and teaching. There’s just one little thing that I would like to improve….the specifics of my pumping location.

I share my office with sixteen other people (thirteen of them men). And with the non-stop student parade going in and out of the office, there’s no time or place to pump discretely. I asked for the key to the storage room just off of the main room because it’s both rarely used and convenient, but I was denied because there is a breastfeeding room on campus. The problem it is that it is located in a different building on another part of campus, making it impossible for me to get there and back on breaks.

And so I pump in a cramped, traffic heavy bathroom. That in and of itself is not that bad. I mean, yes, I should technically be provided with a more appropriate place to pump. But there are some practical realities about the space available in our building, and unfortunately, this is one of those times when one thoughtful accommodation – a breastfeeding room already established on campus – means that a request for a closer venue is seen as pointless due to the existence of said room. I could fight it, but I really don’t feel like explaining the principles of supply and demand to people who are older and male. And yes, when I think about it, bathroom pumping is kind of dirty. But parenting is dirty. You really haven’t lived til you’ve been projectile pooped on. So I try not to touch much, use hand sanitizer just in case, and have lost all qualms about parading the hall between toilet and office with my bottle full of breast milk goodness. Really, the bathroom part of this situation has ceased to faze me.

The issue is that this is a Korean bathroom in late October.

And what does that mean my friends? Air refreshing. Or air exchange. Depending on your translation.

If you don’t live here, let me introduce you to this concept. There’s an idea which pops up now and then that when the heat is on, you need to open the windows because the air is ‘stuffy,’ or ‘the air needs to be exchanged,’ or the air needs to be ‘refreshed.’ It matters not how cold it is outside or how cold this exchange makes those inside or how counterintuitive it seems to blast heat while the windows are open. Damn it! That air must be refreshed!

Some have cited past forms of heating which had a particular smell or safety issues that required frequent window opening while others cite germ theory. Whatever it is, it sometimes happens, and where I work, there is no airing of the bathrooms on a set schedule throughout the day, but a constant air exchange. Stepping into the bathroom (and often the halls) is like stepping outside. Except colder. Because there’s no natural heat from the sun.

Now, it’s one thing when you run out of your toasty classroom and into the toilet for a quick pee. Yes, it’s annoying that the hot water isn’t turned on til December to save money when heat is pouring out through the open window, and yes, if you don’t manage to snag the stall with the heated toilet seat, you are in for a few seconds of tush freezing. But it’s not for long, and you can quickly return to the comfort of your toasty room.

But not when you’re pumping. Nope, you’re there, boobs exposed for a good fifteen to twenty minutes with your nipples frozen in the pump and nothing to think about except the fact that it’s titbit cold.

I’m curious to know if the freezing point for breastmilk is different from water’s? I wonder if constant shivering will affect the amount of milk I can pump? Ooooo experimentation awaits!

For now, I find myself in a constant battle with unseen cleaning ajummas. I go into the bathroom to pump and close the window. By the time I emerge from my stall, the window is open again. Tricksy tricksy. Maybe they’re onto me? I suppose the roar of the pump motor gives me away in there.

But I will persevere – either in closing windows or wrapping my breasts in scarves while pumping to keep them from becoming titsicles. Because after all this milk supply has been through, I shall not give up on account of a little air exchange….

Read Full Post »

One day, my Canadian friend came home after a 14 hour work day to find his Korean Mother-in-law playing with his infant son’s penis. He blew up at his Mother-in-law. Neither his wife nor his live in Korean family members understood why he was so upset. To my friend, any kind of penile touching except using a wipe or wash cloth to clean the area when necessary was tantamount to sexual abuse. Had his MIL been doing this the whole time? Did his wife harbour some sexual trauma in her past that she had not divulged to him after being raised in such a family? Was his son safe at home? He was suddenly terrified. On the other hand, to his Korean family it was just a bit of light gochu nudging by a doting grandmother excited about the existence of her first grandson. Nobody thinks of squeezing a cheek or oooing over a tiny fingertip or admiring the mop of hair. Why should the baby’s penis be the only body part off limits…especially when it signified his all important boyness? Needless to say, the outburst that followed observing this practise didn’t help to bridge the culture gap.

We’ve all heard again and again that the key to a successful marriage is communication. Before you ever get married you are supposed to talk about goals and finances and expectations and roles and boundaries and all that good stuff. And these days many people have lived together before marriage or have spent enough time playing some semblance of house that they’ve seen the potential issues ahead of time and fight/work them out before the ceremony is completed and marriage papers signed. But parenthood is a very different thing. There’s very little that can prepare you for the changes a baby brings to your life, and as little ones change so fast, there’s a constant stream of issues to deal with that were not previously necessary to think about even a few weeks before. So yes, you should probably talk about how to discipline your kids or vaguely outline your parenting philosophies pre-baby, but in all honesty, you won’t really know how interacting with this tiny being is going to go until you personally experience it’s individual personality, quirks, and the reality of parenting.

But then throw in parents raised in different cultures and you have an added bit of fun. Before seeing your MIL poking your son’s penis, how would you know that you even needed to have a conversation about the appropriateness of said action? How do you begin communicating about a difference of opinion if you don’t even know such a practise exists before you are confronted with it? And when you are surprised so suddenly by something you feel you should abhor or should just be common sense to everyone else because it is common sense to you, how do you react reasonably and rationally to avoid a massive family dispute?

Between forums and friends, I’ve been able to learn about some cultural differences and deal with them before we’ve encountered them. Different beliefs in the essential coldness of babies or postpartum practises for mothers have been on my radar for some time, and while I’ve had problems with strangers or people on the periphery of my life when it comes to these issues, Mr. Lee and I have negotiated these differences pretty easily because we knew about them and discussed them before they became an issue. I also remember one girl I used to work with telling me that the final nail in the coffin to her American mother’s desire to raise her children in Korea with her Korean husband, came when my co worker’s teacher cut off her hair in class. Since then I’ve also heard about in laws feeling no qualms about shaving or cutting their grandchildrens’ hair without getting permission from the parents first. Within a Korean context, the teacher of the 1980s or the in laws of the present day have a position of power and authority that is somewhat different from a Western concept. And boundaries about the body and who gets to make decisions about the child’s body are a little bit different here. I was amused today when a friend I’ve known for years asked if it was okay to take a picture of my child. I’m so used to strangers feeling Dragon is public property that I forgot that some people and even some legal systems have different ideas about babies. 

But back to the head shaving, knowing this practise existed, I was able to formulate an opinion about infant head shaving and approach the issue rationally with Mr. Lee before anyone shaved him without my permission. And I had years to think about baby penis touching before I ever saw it done myself and had already come to a few conclusions about under what circumstances it might be tolerable. Pre emptive discussions about cultural differences and knowing about these differences has been key to negotiating cultural differences, but the problem is…you don’t always know.

Early in my years here, I had noticed toddlers running around the 24 hr Home Plus past midnight or had experienced friends keeping their kids out way past my idea of a child’s bedtime when we were out at restaurant-bar type places. I had also worked at a place where 12 year olds were studying until 10 pm and seen job ads for (illegal but still publicly posting) hagwans which ran until 1 or 2 am. And that’s not to mention the adult students who would commute 4 hours a day, starting out at 4 am, working all day, taking an English class til 10pm, arriving home at midnight, and getting up at 4 the next morning to start the daily grind. I did know that there were different concepts of sleep in Korea.

But I thought it was common sense that you don’t wake a sleeping baby. Take that baby out to the fried chicken joint at 11 pm and have her fall asleep in your arms. Have your child running around the meat aisle at all hours of the night if he’s awake. Keep your middle school student up studying til all hours of the night to get the test results needed to get into a good high school. But why in the world would you wake an already sleeping infant? And in my experience pre-100 days, the baby was considered by Koreans around us as a fragile being. And doesn’t something so fragile need something as important as sleep?

So anyway, Dragon doesn’t always do well in his car seat. But on this one day he did! And he fell asleep! And he stayed asleep between the car and the elevator and the building! And then the door opened and it was all this yelling – ‘Dragon! Dragon! Dragon!’ along with poking, prodding, blanket stealing, cheek pinching. The works. I tried to shush. I tried to ask for quiet for just.a.few.more.minutes. The baby was SLEEPING. Yes I KNOW you want to see him, and I’m GLAD you want to see him, and you WILL get to hold him when he wakes up. And I know you are older and the baby is younger, and the baby should learn nice Confucian values early…but does that need to extend to a sleeping baby? Apparently it does. Over and over again. And according to the experiences of many other Westerners I’ve talked to, they have had equally aggravating experiences between their concept of sleep and babies and Korean family/friends’ concept of sleep. It seems like such a small thing, but when you have a child with as many sleep issues as Dragon, you really really really value the peace that comes with the baby falling asleep by himself and staying asleep for longer than 5 minutes.

Anyway, I regretably reacted badly because it never occurred to me that not everyone shared my cultural assumption in the sacredness of a sleeping baby. And I regret that I didn’t keep my temper because in the grand scheme of things, it really was a very small thing done without bad intentions. But I wasn’t expecting it. And so I flipped out not so much in anger but in shock.

There are areas now that we realise are cultural chasms. Baby eating is one where my ideas are often shocking to Koreans – breast milk, formula, how much, how often, until when, solids, which solids, when, what order, water, barley tea…these are areas where we have some differences of opinion and differences in cultural expectations. So we now try to start those conversations with a ‘in your culture….what do you do about this?’ and only then, after learning about the other’s opinion do we give our individual or cultural view. It helps to hear the other person out first before you go asserting your ideas. But of course…we already know that food is going to be a flash point and proceed accordingly. I’m sure there are many more surprises in intercultural parenting to come along in the next few years….

Read Full Post »

Mr Lee has taken to calling Dragon ‘ogyepseol’ sometimes – a play on the Korean word for pork belly. The Korean word is samgyeopseol – ‘sam’ being the three layers of fat on the pork belly, and so ‘o’ refers to the five rolls of fat on Dragon’s belly. He also gets called ‘cubby’ or ‘plump’ as a nickname in Korean by Korean family and friends. Then the other day Mr. Lee was bemoaning the fact that even though it appeared he had double eyelids on both eyelids at birth, as the months go by, his right double eyelid is becoming harder to see. This has prompted Mr. Lee to become concerned about the need for surgery later on. In fact, the only person to realise Dragon was part Korean while he was with me alone, came to the conclusion that he was not ‘fully foreign’ based on his lack of a second double eye lid. So I guess other people are noticing too. And then there’s the Korean predilection for physiognomy that I didn’t realise was still prevalent until baby came along, and there are endless conversations with family about the shape of his forehead or the way his eyes slant and how that means this or that about his personality and fortune. It’s fascinating if confusing.

On one level, this obsession with pointing out and discussing various aspects of the body at length concerns me. Yes in my culture we also talk about a baby’s ‘chub,’ and fat rolls are fawned over. And sometimes we’ll laugh about a funny birthmark or a stage of development that makes kids look particularly hilarious. My friend’s baby went through the most amazing Benjamin Button phase for a few weeks and took the most stupendous old man/gnome-like passport picture. I’m sure his parents will keep that picture and show it to future girlfriends to his horror. But the desire to monitor others’ body weight and publicly discuss their body ‘flaws’ does not continue through childhood and into adulthood to the same extent as it does here. Yes – there’s a lot of public policing of celebrities in Western culture and women’s bodies especially, but for the average girl, that discourse tends to be played out more indirectly through media images rather than direct cataloguing of physical features and how to ‘perfect’ them by family, teachers, employers etc. I once had a student tell me about how she felt her friend was gaining weight. She stated repeatedly that her friend was gaining weight and should go on a diet, because you know, her friend was getting fat and needed others’ concern to encourage her to diet don’t you know? Finally, they went to a sauna one day, and she noticed her friend checking out her weight on the scales. She crept up behind her friend and saw the numbers on the scale and cried out, ‘You LIED! You are 10 kg heavier than you told me you were!!!’ The girl on the scales turned around and of course…it wasn’t her friend. It was some other rando girl. My student was horrified and ashamed of what had happened. My moral lesson from that story was that you should probably not continually obsess over others’ weight, and you shouldn’t try to publicly shame others. The student’s moral take away was that she should have double checked to make sure it was actually her friend before saying something. I think that’s a fundamentally different way to see how we should interact with others when it comes to their bodies.

And of course, there’s the communal aspect of Korean culture that also extends to looks. Yes, there’s certain looks or body types that are preferred in Western culture depending on the styles and trends of the time, but this is amplified in a more homogeneous culture with plastic surgery clinics on every street corner. Looking around my classroom, I often see the same nose or the same jaw line – not because that is the nose or the jaw Koreans usually have, but because it is the one perfected by surgeons and popularised by celebrities. But Dragon is starting life already looking different from the ‘typical’ Korean child, and especially when with his parents, he will always face greater public scrutiny and be a more popular topic of public discussion for the good or bad because of his otherness. And I’m not sure how that will all affect his body image, sense of self, and self-acceptance in a place where altering your appearance is not only affordable but necessary in many cases to land even a basic job.

At the same time, I’ve also seen some of the benefits of Koreans’ openness to discussing the body. The body and its functions are much less shameful for public discussion here. When your students show you the translation for a particularly nasty bowel problem to explain why they will be missing class, there’s quite a bit of cultural discomfort to initially overcome, but when you get used to it, there’s a freedom that comes from naming things what they are and being okay with sharing your physical aliments with others. And while issues surrounding weight gain and resulting health issues are becoming more of a problem here with diet and lifestyle changes, I do think that openness about talking about weight gain does prevent most people from becoming morbidly obese in Korea. In Canada, we worry so much about offending people or hurting their self-confidence that we often end up enabling loved ones. I believe our inability to voice concerns or talk about an individual body directly in negative terms can also harm our self esteem by preventing the ability to vocalise and verbalise problems. Not talking about an issue can make us overly sensitive and more susceptible to internalising shame.

So there needs to be a balance – it’s just that it’s hard to say where it is. I’m a realist. Dragon will be teased at some point in his childhood for something. His weight, his height, his parent’s income, his clothes, his racial and cultural background, his test scores, his physical prowess, his gifts and talents in one area, his lack of gifts and talents in another area….and he will probably also tease others for whatever reason. Kids can be cruel. Kids learn cruelty when they experience it from others. I guess our role as parents is to help kids deal with the messages they receive from society and others. And I guess we need to help our children negotiate negatively whether it comes directly or indirectly and whether it is part of public discourse or hinted at in private.

Read Full Post »

A while ago I created a new tag called ‘adventures in feminist parenting.’ I didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded good. I’ve been wondering if anyone was going to ask me what it meant. Thankfully none of you have.

Last week, Australian feminist mommy blogger blue milk reminded readers of her 10 questions about feminist parenting. It seemed like a good time to finally put in words what my tag might mean.

Above all else, this blog is about becoming. It started off about becoming a wife. Later, it morphed into what it means to become a naturalized Korean (maybe someday?), or a part of Korea, or a Korean family member, or a Seoulite if I will never be accepted or desire to be accepted as “Korean”. Lately it’s about becoming a mother. Despite having the legal paperwork to prove my marriage, the visa allowing me residence here, the family register with my name added to a Korean family, and a three month old kid, I don’t think I fully grasp what it means to be a wife, Korean, or mother….let alone being a good wife, good Korean, or good mother…or a feminist wife, feminist Korean, or feminist mother. I’m in the process of learning and becoming. I will always be in the process of learning and becoming.

My definition of feminism is at its very core an action. It is the work of helping people to become the best people they can be with the gifts and talents they have been given so that they are not constrained by boxes or hierarchies or artificially constructed limitations. And I suppose that I also have a core belief that the way to achieve this goal is ever changing – ever shifting. The reason is that patriarchal privilege, burden, and oppression are all intricately and artfully woven into every aspect of society. And even if we manage to define or pin down or explore one aspect of what we think is this privilege, burden, and oppression, it is challenged in the next minute by a new perspective provided by a different culture, practice, or concept. In my opinion, feminism is the opposite of rigidity, hierarchy, set expectations, and limitations. Feminism should be about flexibility, movement, fluidity, and the ability to become the person you have the ability to become instead of being constrained by roles and categories which are constructed not innate. You may have a different definition, but this is mine.

In practice, feminism is not always like this. Sometimes feminism and those who identify with it seek to make rigid boxes and theories and try to fit people into them. In this way, I think feminism is in the process of becoming feminist. Sometimes my feminism needs to become feminist.

And so when it comes to ‘adventures in feminist parenting,’ I think these posts are also about the never ending process of becoming. We are learning to parent. We are learning how our cultural limitations and each other’s cultural limitations have been ingrained in us. We are learning how to use our talents and strengths to parent and how to support each other’s talents and strengths. We are learning how to fail and re-group. We are learning from our child. We are in constant flux in an attempt to be fulfilled as parents and partners, and we are learning how to build a fulfilling family. We have not arrived fully formed as parents. We are just beginning the journey. And therein lies the adventure.

Update: See here for a portion of this post on blue milk

Read Full Post »

Before Dragon was born I thought a lot about the values and lessons I wanted to imprint on him – things like empathy, mindfulness, sharing, and looking out for one another. That’s what a parent is supposed to do right?

Now, on Friday, I had my first baby-free night out since Dragon’s birth: a date with Gaga. With the exception of the time he was hospitalized (a foggy period in my brain), it was also the first time I was without the weight and shape of a child in almost a year. After nearly ten months of negotiating Seoul with a baby bump and three more carrying his ever growing body in a wrap, I was suddenly not only lighter but also smaller.

And the absence of Dragon made me notice something.

Dragon has made me more empathetic, and he has forced me to be more mindful and worried about others. The bbali bbali cut throat competition that is contemporary Korea manifests itself on the streets of Seoul with a constant battle for space, seats, and service. After six years here, a few years of age added to my face, and a wedding ring on my finger marking me as a certified ajumma, I had developed urban survival skills that rivaled any Seoulite. But then, I had two spectacular falls early in my pregnancy, and the experiences terrified me into behaving differently for the safety of my child. I slowed down. I stopped rushing along streets and down stairs and in and out of subway cars with the crowds. I let the pushers rush in front of me instead of fighting them for space and seat supremacy, and I started becoming more aware of my own herd mentality behaviour as I tried to protect my body and my growing Dragon from the herd.

But I wasn’t really aware of this change in my behaviour until I was without Dragon and back to my ‘normal’ size and abilities. And then I realized I had re-conditioned myself to walk slower, let others go in front of me, and scan the crowd for people in more need of a seat than me instead of dropping my eyes to the floor as I slid into the seat in an attempt to visually obliterate others (because I know what it’s like to be 35 weeks pregnant or wearing a 6 kilo child, desperate to sit down and faced with a line of able-bodied 20-somethings so engrossed in their ithings that they don’t notice me or the hunched back grandmother standing in front of them for twenty stops).

In short, the need to keep myself and Dragon safe in the hustle and bustle has made me look out for others in need, share space, and be mindful of ourselves and our surroundings. Before I could teach these lessons to Dragon, he taught me to change some of my behaviour so that I could teach these lessons to him.

A smart one this Dragon.

Read Full Post »

source

It’s official, Dragon and I are now an exclusively breastfeeding duo.

It happened rather slowly. At seven/eight weeks I had enough milk except mid-morning or right before his bedtime. At nine weeks I started noticing that I would have enough milk one day and then a few ounces short the next. At ten and a half weeks it just happened. We didn’t have to rely on formula anymore.

Dragon’s almost twelve weeks old now, and we have a new goal – building up a supply of frozen milk so that mummy can sleep in on a Saturday morning and go to the Lady Gaga concert on April 27th without resorting to formula. It’s a tough goal. I go for one extra oz. at day. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. Slowly slowly wins this race.

I’m not telling you about my ability to exclusively breastfeed to brag. Oh no. Breastfeeding has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do in my life. And I’m not telling you this because I think everyone who has problems with breastfeeding should continue until they are able to exclusively breastfeed. I don’t think this is a path for everyone. Really I don’t.

I was out the other week with a woman who had experienced a traumatic birth and obvious though undiagnosed PPD. She was saying she was a breastfeeding failure. It broke my heart. Do you know how many times I’ve heard this as we Seoul mummies have shared our first few months of mothering stories? Breastfeeding may be ‘natural,’ but there are a lot of things that can go wrong. And it takes a toll on your sleep, your body, your schedule, and your diet if you are like me with a reflux baby who is trying to change her diet in order to figure out if that is the problem. Women should not feel guilty or be made to feel guilty when all does not go according to plan, or the experience is overwhelming, or they just simply hate the experience. Sometimes we do not accomplish the goal we set for ourselves but this does not make us failures.

I’m just sharing our experience because when Dragon was originally hospitalized it seemed like I either had to go exclusively to formula or exert Herculean superpowers to get my milk back in full asap. I didn’t want to do the first, and I could not physically or emotionally do the second. Instead, we took a middle path. I’m not sure if I ever really expected to slowly and naturally get back to a place where my body alone was able to give my son what he needs. And I spent several weeks learning to trust my body again – learning to trust that I would not inadvertently starve my child again. But it did happen ever so quietly. We continue because it is good for us as a nursing pair…it is good for his health…it is something I believe in, and something I have always wanted. We continued because we found a peaceful middle ground and went from there.

So I suppose I write for those who are somewhere in the middle or just beginning to experience their plans going off the rails and wondering where they fit in the great mummy feeding wars. There’s a middle way that you can take if that works for you. It’s the path that doesn’t tell you that you are a failure and doesn’t tell you that once you accept that first bottle of formula you are going straight to mummy hell. It may lead to exclusive breastfeeding, and it may not for whatever reason. But be at peace with yourself and know that you know what is best for your baby and yourself.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »