J at 31 months

by Grace Ko


I blinked and J is now 31 months. What?!

I thought toddlerhood would be a nightmare (all those stories of “The Terrible Twos'“). But it’s been relatively smooth-sailing (crossing my fingers) and a WHOLE lot of fun.

the first day it felt like fall, we pulled out his dinosaur sweatshirt

the first day it felt like fall, we pulled out his dinosaur sweatshirt

J is quite entertaining at 31 months. He’s even more full of life, expression and energy. He’s overflowing of curiosity, brimming with questions. Currently, this looks like a lot of “Why"? I am amazed at how much he soaks in and has learned. I’m also humbled as to how little I seem to know and how much I struggle to answer his Why questions.

At 31 months, he loves ice cream, his current obsessions are dinosaurs and most recently, mummies. We were gifted a collection of National Geographic books from my cousin and one day, he picked up the one on mummies. What started as a mixture of trepidation and hesitancy has now become an infatuation with the book. Last night, J and daddy played “Mummy” where my resourceful husband took some toilet paper and wrapped him up in it. (We saved the toilet paper to use later.)

magnatiles + dinosaurs

magnatiles + dinosaurs

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One of the biggest developments in our household has been that J is now potty-trained and sleeps in his big boy bed! These are big milestones, people! BIG!

It’s a funny thing, how kids just do things when they’re ready. I had been trying to potty train him for months but one day, he just didn’t want to wear a diaper so I put underwear on him, we went out to a doctor’s appointment, and at the pharmacy, I asked him if he needed to pee and he said yes so I took him to a public restroom and just like that, he went pee outside of the house for the first time!

With sleeping in his big boy bed, we made it a big deal. Leading up to the transition, we stumbled across a book, The Berenstein Bears “A New Baby”. Granted it’s about a new sibling coming into the picture, a majority of the plot was about Small Bear growing out of his bed and getting a new bed. So we ran with it. J helped clean the room and get it ready for the bed, he helped daddy move the bed into the room, we went together to pick out bedding (dinosaurs, of course).

Since learning to sleep on his own, each morning he wakes up and shouts out, “엄마! 아빠! 혼자 잤어!” (“Mom! Dad! I slept by myself!”) It’s really the cutest thing watching him feel so proud of himself.

I’m learning that parenting is a lot of watching and waiting and learning from our children. My sweet, sensitive, compassionate little man has been a source of great encouragement and inspiration - praying for dead bird, praying for mommy and daddy to give him a baby.

This week, I’ll be holding down the fort by myself as Y goes off on an adventure. Part of me is worried but a small part of me knows I should relish one-on-one quality time with my little man. Here’s to a week, just you and me, bud!


On grief

by Grace Ko


“Grief has many faces,” my dad once told me. And true it is, indeed.

One moment, you’re going along, just fine. The next, it hits you like a ton of bricks. Your heart aches, it physically hurts and you feel like life is so cruel that it would go on, business as usual.

These past few weeks, I’ve grappled with a slew of emotions and thoughts…

J served as the best kind of distraction, a trip to Busan was necessary for my soul but returning to the “real world” felt daunting. The quiet, the stillness of my life here in Pyeongtaek, usually such a blessing, felt like a curse, a prison of my own thoughts and feelings.

How do you even begin grieving losing someone? How am I supposed to process the many feelings that accompany grief: anger, guilt, sorrow, hopelessness, fear. Why didn’t I tell him how much he meant to me, that he was like a brother? How do you come to terms with the fact that “Life goes on”? How do you embrace life in the midst of loss?

I’ve felt so conflicted to keep going, to stay strong, to remain present and to live on in remembrance of him but feeling so raw, so broken. When the pain begins flooding my heart, I want it to go away but I cling to it, not wanting my memories of him to go with it.

 

I don’t have the answers.

I won’t ever have the answers.

And maybe that’s just it. So I cling to the Cross, to the One who knows infinitely more the weight of death, the value of life, to the Friend who knows our pain, our hurt, our brokenness and embraces us as we are.

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Regret

by Grace Ko


The other night, Y and I had a “date night in” of sorts. The kind where you put the baby down and then sneak off to the living room and turn it into your own oasis. This night, it was movie night. We popped open a can of beer and shared it while we browsed the plethora of options Netflix had to offer. We ultimately decided on “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”. (Yes, I’m a bit late to the party.) But to say that I loved this movie would be a gross understatement.

I don’t know if it was the incredible chemistry between the actors or the reliability of Lara Jean’s character. Okay, fine, it sure didn’t hurt that Peter Kavinsky, played by Nick Centineo is a TOTAL cutie (I’ve confessed this fact to my husband…)

But what I wasn’t expecting was how hard I was hit with a sense of nostalgia. It whisked me back to my high school days. (Not because the plot was similar to my life. It wasn’t.) But maybe that was exactly it. It was so different from my life in high school that it felt refreshing. It was empowering to see an Asian-American female protagonist, not ticking off the list of the stereotypical images of an Asian woman. The plot wasn’t one where the girl had to “change” to win over the heart of the ever-so popular jock. He just fell for her because of who she is. It was one of those movies that I wish I had grown up watching.

Growing up in a mostly White, affluent town, I was definitely a minority and I felt it on many levels every day. In the subtle and the not-so-subtle ways. Not only did I look different but I felt different. There were seasons my mom worked multiple jobs to make ends meet and my dad pastored a church while pursuing his doctorate studies. We didn’t own a McMansion like many of my classmates did. We didn’t even own a property. I didn’t even have my own room.

From an early age, somewhere along the way, I had picked up the message that I was not “desired” because I thought I wasn’t as pretty, smart, funny, tall, curvy, witty, athletic as my White counterparts.

So I just resorted to walking the narrow path, sticking to my studies, living my straight-edged Churched life. I floated between friendship groups and didn’t venture out to parties or many social gatherings and sure as hell didn’t date for most of my high school years.

I’ve been listening to Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime”. And recently, a passage hit me like a ton of bricks.

I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in life, any choice that I’ve made. But I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make, the things I didn’t say. We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to. “What if…” “If only…” “I wonder what would have…” You will never, never know, and it will haunt you for the rest of your days.

- Trevor Noah, Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood

I was walking on the treadmill at the gym when I listened to this excerpt. And I had to stop because I was flooded with regret. I started recalling things I had long forgotten about.

And it then dawned on me why “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” hit me so hard. See, there was a boy. We’ll call him Peter for fun. He was a grade below me but he was tall, handsome, fun, funny, athletic, musical. And he was my friend. He used to walk with me to class, we would stop to talk briefly at our lockers. He was basically my Peter Kavinsky. And I wanted to ask him to my senior prom. One day, a friend of mine asked me who I was thinking of asking to prom. I responded saying, “Oh I was thinking of asking Peter.” That’s when she said, this other girl in my grade (we’ll call her Amanda) was going to ask him. So… I didn’t ask him.

Why did I think it was my responsibility to accommodate Amanda?
Why did her desire to ask Peter triumph mine?
Why didn’t I stand up for myself and tell my friend that I wanted to and that I was going to ask him?"
Why didn’t I give Peter the choice of choosing?

Probably because I feared rejection. Probably because I didn’t want to confirm in my heart the assumption I had had all along, that I was not “desired”. Maybe I even thought that because Peter was White, he wouldn’t want to go with me, because I’m Asian. (I know it sounds far-fetched but I think if I’m honest, there was a part of me that genuinely believed this.)

In college, I studied French for the first two years. I qualified to apply for Junior Year Abroad in France. And I accepted but under the condition that I study the French language over the summer to prepare myself for a full year abroad studying all of my academic courses in French. And guess what I did?

I backed down. I ended up going to London for a semester (I don’t regret going abroad. I’m glad I still got myself to study abroad) but I still wonder… if I hadn’t backed down, would I have become fluent in French? I’ll never know. Because I gave up even before trying.

Why did watching an innocent chick flick spiral me down such a rabbit hole? Why is my choice of prom date haunting me when I’m happily married with a beautiful family and life? Why does this even matter?

I’m not sure. But regret sucks. It’s uncomfortable. It makes you feel raw and exposed. It feels gross and I want to do what I can to minimize feeling it from here on out.

It got me thinking… “How do I live a life without regret?” I don’t have an answer. But I do think gratitude has something to do with it. But so does not letting fear dictate your actions or inaction.

As a reminder to myself, this is a working list of things I won’t ever regret:

  • spending quality time with loved ones

  • making time to care for and love myself

  • being vulnerable to those who have earned my vulnerability stories (Brene Brown)

  • working out

  • trusting in God


Weekend in Hwasun

by Grace Ko


We’re going on five years here in Korea. But waiting on, banking on contracts to be renewed or extended or the reality that it could possibly not be has been a source of uncertainty and anxiety.

But the silver lining through it all has been knowing my parents are here. (If all goes wrong, at least we could move in with them for a time.) :)

Over MDW, we made the three-hour drive to visit my parents. Their home feels like just that, home, but simultaneously like a beautiful retreat, tucked away in the mountains of Hwasun. I’m so thankful J gets to grow up here in Korea and have the luxury of not just one backyard but two. He spent the weekend planting and watering flowers and trees with grandma, enjoying a ball game with grandpa. And it dawned on me, it’s the most amazing thing being able to witness J start to enjoy the very things I enjoy. The joy doubles, triples when I get to see him enjoy the things my loved ones enjoy.

As soon as we arrived, J was overjoyed, over-the-moon to see grandma and grandpa and to be at their place. It was contagious and set us off to a beautiful weekend that I’m still reliving. I felt thoroughly spoiled with my mom’s delicious home-cooked meals, and the coffee my dad would brew for me first thing in the morning. We spent an evening cheering for our favorite baseball team, the Kia Tigers, and even fit in a day trip to 화준적벽.

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Motherhood: Self-Care - "Me before you"

by Grace Ko


I’m sure you’ve all heard of the proverbial airplane air mask analogy when it comes to self-care - "In the event of emergency, put your oxygen mask on first before you help others."

This is something my dear husband has had to remind me of often. But let’s be real. When a child is utterly dependent on you for life, when he needs to be fed, when dirty diapers need to be changed and clothes need to be washed, caring for yourself gets placed on the back-burner. Even the most basic needs like eating and hygiene get lost in the shuffle. Not to mention that when I was really really new to this “mom” thing, I somehow let lies get to my head, that if I took care of myself first, I was less-than. The lie was that if I cared for myself and my needs and desires, I was “selfish”. But thanks to loving friends and dear husband, I’ve come to realize that you truly do need to care for yourself first. When we’re filled, we can love from a place of overflow, not from emptiness.

So, what have I learned about self-care? What does it look like for me?

  • Do something for yourself once a day/week/month: This could mean taking 15 minutes to read a book you’ve been meaning to crack open, or getting your nails done or making a monthly commitment to have a “mommy date” with a friend.

  • Embrace joy: Motherhood rocks your world and your identity. It’s been grounding, energizing and life-giving to go back to things I enjoyed pre-motherhood but also to try and find new things. For me personally, this has been going to Zumba class, practicing yoga at home or devouring books of all genres.

  • Create a routine that works for you: I’m a sucker for routine. And structure. But it felt like that all went out the window with motherhood (especially in that newborn/infant stage). But over time, I’ve found little things here and there that have created routine and stability in the chaos of parenthood: a morning routine that involves waking up before everyone else for a bit of me-time, an evening routine that I look forward and that helps me unwind (usually involving a good book or show with the husband).

  • Ask for help: I’ll confess, this is one that’s been really hard for me, one I’m still working on. For those familiar with the enneagram, I’m type 2. One thing the enneagram has helped shed light on is how often I find my worth in helping others and when left to its vices, it’s often at the cost of myself. The internal tape in my head is one of “I’m worthy to be loved if I’m needed”. But what about when I need others? It’s hard asking for help, letting down my guard and being in need. Whether it’s asking someone to watch your child so you can enjoy a date night or some alone-time, going to a lactation consultant for guidance on breastfeeding or seeking professional help in counseling to better navigate the vast emotions, hurts, pain that surface with parenthood, asking for help doesn’t show weakness. It takes courage and strength.

  • Find your inner friend: Recently, I watched a video uploaded by one of my favorite YouTubers, Do it on a dime. She’s a mommy of two boys and posts content on organization and low-budget lifestyle. But in this video, “An open letter to mediocre moms..” she urged us to “find your inner friend”, to show yourself the grace you so easily show friends. Be a kind and gentle friend to yourself.

  • Stay curious: At the beginning of this year, I signed up for life-coaching. Though I’m a counselor by trade, it was the first time I received coaching or counseling of any kind, outside of work/training. After receiving life-coaching from Jenn and the many conversations I’ve had with my family and friends as a result, a new motto I’ve adopted is, “Stay curious”. Staying curious means creating space for communication - not just with others but within myself, allowing myself space to explore and grow in self-awareness.