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Posts Tagged ‘International marriage’

Wow…it’s been a long time since I’ve posted. We are very welll and looking forward to taking a trip back to North America for the summer break. As to my lack of posting, mostly it’s a combination of being busy with life and not feeling the desperate pull to write that I once did. I think I mostly need a break. But until I get back to into writing again, please take a moment to fill out this survey for parents of multiethnic Koreans in Korea if you are one. Also, if you know someone else who is, please pass it along to them. 🙂

 

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Just a few pictures to show you how we celebrated our first Christmas as a family of 3!

Preparing for the big day

 

25 advent

stocking

Christmas cookies for daycare teachers

 

25 cookies 2

25 cookies

Dragon enjoying and wearing his Christmas presents

25 christmas outfit

blog presents

blog dragon

A selection of the many stocking stuffers sent from abroad

25 irn bru

25 chocolates

25 pp

Including some Father-Son matching shirts

25 guns

We went for lunch at the inlaws (mandu guksu, bulgogi, and tiramisu)

cake

And ended the night with dinner at the Hilton with our friend (no cooking for me today!!!)

hilton collage

Merry Christmas to all

xo msleetobe + fam

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On 32

For my birthday this year, Dragon stuck his mucus dripping nose in my mouth. Soon after, I started coming down with a cold, and I spent this afternoon with a fever and congested nose.

But considering Mr. Lee spent his 2012 birthday with a baby in the NICU, I’d say this was a step up.

Also, Dragon started shouting CA or CAD while pointing at his cat siblings today, so I think he’s added a second word to his vocabulary (1st being mom mom mom mom or omma depending on how much Korean he’s heard that day).

And Mr. Lee brought home this cake.

these sweet potato bakery-esq things we’re really into at the moment

AND an ‘S’ grade for his midterm work eval.

So, not such a horrible birthday in the end 🙂

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On Feeding

In general, our relationship works like this. When we’ve mutually agreed that one person should be in charge of something whether it be doing a chore, making a purchase, or planning an event, the person in charge gets to make the decisions. When it’s something that pertains to one person alone, that person gets to make the decision.

And then we had a baby.

Because of our respective work schedules, I am solely responsible for Dragon during the weekdays. And because of social conditioning and individual ability, I’ve been the one making the majority of the decisions about how Dragon is raised, which, for an infant, is basically about food, sleep, and play.
There’s no dispute about sleep schedules; we only wish he would sleep longer and better. There’s no dispute about play and social interaction. And Mr. Lee has always been supportive of my choice to breastfeed and then my need to supplement at the beginning.

Then we got to solids.

Now, before we go further, I need to point out the mommy wars in Western culture often revolve around food. So this isn’t entirely an East/West parenting issue. And personally, I have stopped any form of philosophical parenting and taken a more – ‘what’s good for us and scientifically reasonable is what we’re going with’ sort of approach. That means I breastfeed despite obstacles and qualms about certain approaches to breastfeeding advocacy, and I started solids at 4.5 months because it was the right time and recommendations are just that. Recommendations. I also puree food because I like to and spoon feed for now because it works for us, but if the little Mr. takes something age appropriate and size appropriate from my plate, that’s okay too. In short, breast milk is great, purees are great, finger food is starting to be great. Breast milk is good for him and solids are good for him. All is good right?

Well, we went to the 6 month government sponsored baby wellness-esq check, and the dr asked if Dragon was eating beef. No. Chicken? No. Eggs? No. Fish? Um…no. A wide variety of fruit and vegetables (brussel sprouts even!) and lots of iron fortified pablum…yes. But the dr didn’t care about those things.
So then I got a big talking to. Because all 6 months old should be eating those 4 things. They should, specifically, be eating mackerel I was told. Really? I said in an exasperated voice which was unfortunately interpreted as a question. Yes. I was making my son anemic because he wasn’t getting his daily serving of hanwoo.

Now, agreeing to raise Dragon as a meat eater has been my big concession in parenting thus far. I made it for various reasons, but a primary reason is that we live in Korea, and he will be attending Korean daycare and kindergarten and school and kids have meals made for them at these places. And there’s always meat. And nobody is ever going to respect the crazy foreign mother’s request to omit that meat from her son’s portion. So I know that whether I like it or not, he will eat meat. And I was planning on starting meat from around 8 months. But because I feed iron fortified pablum, and because I breastfeed, and because I like the idea of introducing things slowly over time, I didn’t feel that the moment a kid turns 6 months he needed to be eating mackerel.

The same day we went to a second dr (our usual ped) for vaccinations, and I was again reprimanded for not giving my 6.5 month old meat. This of course started getting Mr. Lee antsy. He was already secretly worried I think about me the vegetarian REALLY agreeing to feed our son meat, and then he heard from drs that denying our son meat for the past two weeks was harming him.

And this is where intercultural parenting is fun. Because yes, I am the one who is preparing food and feeding Dragon most of the time, so from my perspective, I get to make the decisions.

But Dragon is not entirely mine. And we are not living in my culture. And to be honest, although people will say ‘your child is YOURS and YOU know what is best for YOUR child,’ that’s not entirely how most people see it. Society sees your child as theirs, family and children’s services see your child as theirs, breastfeeding or anti-circumcision or anti-spanking advocates see your child as theirs, and older generations sure as hell feel your child is a piece of them and that they have a right to have at least a little bit of an opinion. The validity of these claims is up for debate depending on the issue and situation, but at the very least, our child is ours. He’s Canadian and Korean and at some point there’s bound to be some disagreements as to how to deal with that fact in day to day decisions about how we raise him.

Plus, being outside of my culture, and trying to interact in a language I’m not fluent in means that I can’t always express my ideas adequately, or explain cultural differences like how our rice cereal is fortified with extra iron unlike most homemade juk. And of course, not being raised in this culture, I don’t always know what people expect as normative here in order to prepare my defense of my way or even prepare for the controversy. Anyway, needless to say, I didn’t respond well to the doctors, and I got kind of pissy.

Then I took a little break and tried to be rational again. And I tried to give up a slice of my monopoly on how Dragon is raised even if it’s really me putting in the time and raising most of the week. And I decided that my husband and the doctors shouldn’t be lumped together. I should talk and discuss and find a compromise with my husband. And in matters that are really not important, I should smile and nod and carry on when it comes to others.

So I started Dragon on chicken but only chicken at 7 months. He’s not a fan 🙂 But I fully realize it takes kids some time to get used to different tastes and textures, so I try every so often in different combinations to see if he will become a fan eventually. And Mr. Lee is okay with no mackerel. Because he is our son. And we should find a middle ground in an honest way because we are raising a child together and can work together to find a good solution for all.

And then when Dragon and I went for a follow up vaccination, and when the dr. started berating me about meat and how my seven month old MUST eat meat at EVERY meal, I refrained myself. I didn’t talk about how often he consumed meat. I didn’t talk about how my culture does it. I didn’t talk about iron fortified foods or the fact that a whole lot of kids don’t take to meat or solids in general for quite some time. I just put the hint of a smile on my face, agreed to the general principle that iron is important, and said, that yes, indeed we had started ‘meat.’ Less is better, and appearance of agreement is good enough in this situation.

I’m learning.

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Some time ago, my sister found this amazing website where people post pictures taken long ago, and then update the same picture in the same style. It’s beautiful. It’s nostalgic. It’s starling in some instances.

Since Dragon was born, I’ve taken the same concept but altered it a little. I’ve been juxtaposing pictures of Mr. Lee and I when we were about the same age or the same stage as Dragon. And I can’t help but get a beat teary eyed when I realise how circular our lives are.

Us at 3 months

 

Dragon 4.5 months, me on my 4th month birthday

Dragon at 6 months, me about 8 months

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He said: ‘Now that the baby’s in daycare and around other kids, we have to be more careful about his body temperature.’

She said: ‘You mean…we should be vigilant about checking him for a fever or signs of illness because of more germs?”

He said: “No, his body always needs to be warm because then he won’t get sick.”

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Dragon and I have been back in Canada for a week and a half now, and there’s a lot of good. Eating berries by the carton for breakfast, Timmy’s on every street corner, fresh air, peaceful streets to take early morning stroller walks on, and ketchup chips. Not to mention the fact that Dragon LOVES his Nana. But there’s a lot of end of life issues with family members right now with dementia being one of the most frustrating and heart breaking issues.

It’s got me thinking about what a bicultural and bilingual marriage looks like at 90. If we are so lucky to spend 50 years together, and if we are unable to escape the challenges of dementia, how will having two mother tongues and growing up in two different cultures further complicate dementia issues? I hope to improve my Korean skills, but I will probably never be fluent, and I wonder, if it is Mr. Lee who suffers from dementia, if he will become trapped in 1983 and lose his ability to speak English. Or if we spend the end of our lives in Canada, but he is living in another era in his mind, if the disconnect between his surroundings and his mind will cause even further anxiety because he is not in his birth culture. I know in Canada there are now retirement and nursing homes devoted to a particular culture in order to minimise these issues, but if we end our lives in Korea, will the same be there for me?

It’s not a serious worry I have at this moment in time, but I suppose until now I had always expected that the unique challenges of international marriage would be fully worked out by our later years. We would be the grandparents and the inlaws. We would be the generation with the old fashioned ideas. We would have raised our kid(s) already and retired, thus leaving behind cultural differences in the workplace. We would have come to fully understand and accept each others’ weaknesses and use our strengths to mutual advantage. Everything would be perfected after 50 years right?

But maybe there are additional challenges when the mind goes in a different direction. And perhaps that will make our own end of life issues harder. Or maybe it won’t matter? Maybe when one of us is in the bed crying out in pain or delusional, the other’s worn and wrinkled hand will be the way to soothe regardless of language.

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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….

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This weekend we had a very busy and a very hard parenting weekend. It was full of obligations and errands and obstacles. And yet, it was the weekend where we really clicked – not just as individual parents but as a parenting team. We were on the same parenting page without having to discuss how to get there. We both contributed equally in our own ways and passed baby between us as we went about all the chores we needed to do. And it was, overall, a seamless transition between roles and jobs and obligations. It seemed like we really found our stride and found it together.

Then we ended the night with a difficult but wonderful conversation about our failings as parents and our successes. And we talked about how we are, in his attempt to put it into words, trying to be a ‘Western family in Korea’ – or a family with a father who leans more toward his family and equal parenting than being married to his work. And how not only are we on this steep learning curve as new parents, but Mr. Lee simply has no model from which to see how to be the father and partner he wants to be. It’s not that they don’t exist at all – but they don’t exist in his salaryman circle. And so we are muddling through creating our own model. And we talked about how marriage and parenthood has blown the concept of what it is to love and how to love wide open, and how these experiences have taken us to places we didn’t know existed. These are good places.

And at the end of the night I said to myself, ‘Take a mental picture of this weekend. Of this night. Of this conversation. Because juggling all of our responsibilities is going to get harder in the next few months and when that happens, remember this moment and how you are both making progress as people and parents. And that you are doing it together in love.’

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[My continuing series of letters to Dragon]

Dear Dragon,

‘Hey you, kid!’ said the elderly man on the subway in a jovial way, ‘this is not your country.’ I smiled at him and politely told him that yes, this is your country. He became very confused and then there was light in his eyes. ‘Oh!’ he said. ‘He’s a half half!’

I’ve had the discussion about what to label our kids with many people. Some say ‘mixed race’, some say ‘biracial’, others ‘multicultural,’ and for those in certain parts of the States, it’s ‘happa.’ ‘Multicultural’ sits best with me, but then there’s the issue of if you are ‘half half,’ ‘Korean-Canadian,’ ‘Canadian-Korean’ or something else. Personally, I prefer to think of you as Korean AND Canadian. It’s not a 1/2 + 1/2 = whole equation for me. I don’t think that you are denied a whole half of each culture because only one parent is from each. I don’t think you are lacking in anything because your gene pool is more diversified or because we celebrate double the holidays or have two hometowns or use two languages. Instead, in this new math of the globalized world, I think whole + whole = whole. It’s just a new kind of whole.

Of course, we’re not living in an English speaking society, and thus we need to put semantics aside to a certain extent. Whether we use – or 1/2 or AND or create a new word, much of the soul searching about what it means to be you at this time in Korea or this time in the world is lost in a passing conversation on the subway. But it’s still something I think about for you because I want you to have the best of what your identity has to offer you.

In my vision for your future, you are comfortable in both identities equally. You interact with Koreans as a Korean and with Canadians as a Canadian (whatever that means in the future). And by the time you become fully cognitive of how to do this, being Korean AND something else will be a normative ‘Korean’ identity. Yeah, I know. Silly mummy and her dreaming.

But it is my sincere wish that you will never feel like ‘only half’ – you will never feel an emptiness in your identity – you will never feel you are lacking in wholeness because you are in one place at a time and not two. And if you cannot find a way to make whole + whole = whole, then I hope you feel comfortable in your in between place. I hope you don’t feel the need to reject one part of yourself or hide a part or feel ashamed of a part. I hope, that even when people point at your mother and make assumptions about you based on her, that you will not hate the attention my existence gives you here. And I hope you will not be ashamed of your mother’s accented Korean or your father’s accented English, and I sincerely hope that you will not face discrimination in either place for your dual roots. Yeah, I know. Silly mummy and her dreaming.

But at the very least, if you are taunted or discriminated against or constantly held up as an outsider, I hope you yourself are proud of your heritage, and I know it is our job to help you feel comfortable in both. There is comfort in fitting perfectly in a group, but there are few people who can go through life always, in every situation, being a perfect fit. And so you will just learn a little earlier how to negotiate an abundance, not a lack of identity, and this skill will serve you well in the world. It’s a skill most people need to learn even if they don’t have to worry about choosing what label to put on their liminality.

You are whole as a person Dragon, and that’s not a dream, that’s a fact.

Love Mummy

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