Wed Mar 5 2014
I duck into a circular rack of clothing, a giddy smile on my face. Soon Mommy will notice that I am not by her side. She will, at least for a moment, panic. She will think that I have wandered off and gotten lost, or maybe even been kidnapped.
But then Mommy will come to her senses, calm down, and search for me. She will call my name in a sing-song voice and bend down to peek under the clothes.
I pick up my feet and tuck them onto the bars. Now I am invisible. I am a monkey nestled into a tree. I am a chameleon blending into my surroundings.
Still, I know somehow Mommy will find me, and I will shriek with glee. Then we will go to the next store and play again. This is my favorite game.
My mom’s closet is a treasure trove. Sometimes when I am home alone, I go inside and rifle through all the sweaters and dresses and shoes. There are jackets with shoulder pads from when she worked in an office. There is a thick winter coat from when she went to school in Philadelphia. There are even skirts and shorts from when she still lived in Taiwan.
My all-time favorite thing in my mom’s closet is her bright red qi pao. Long and silky, embroidered all over with blossoms, fastened from ribcage to collar with delicate butterfly clasps. It is the most beautiful, regal thing I have ever seen. A Chinese princess dress. And it belongs to my mother.
The first time I put it on, I am too small in every way. A few years later, I try again, but I am still not quite there. Finally, in high school, the hem falls to my ankle as it should — but the sleeves and chest are tight, and the stiff high collar won’t even close around my neck.
Wistfully I realize that I have outgrown my mother. I will never fit her qi pao.
In my own closet, there are a number of items I should probably get rid. Star Trek t-shirts, all XL, because as a kid I hid my body. My dance team uniform, stiff and cliché, but a reminder of the joy you can find in stepping outside your comfort zone. And way in the back, two tiny dresses that I loved in pre-school, one handmade by my best friend’s mother, the other frilled and polka-dotted, affectionately dubbed the Blueberry Dress.
I will never wear any of these things again, but each one tells a story about who I have been. About who I am. And maybe someday I will have a daughter who hides between hangers or presses her nose into the mothball scent. Maybe she will want to read my life in my clothes or try them on for herself. Maybe she will be fascinated by that “otherness” in me and want desperately to connect to the “otherness” within herself.
Tue Feb 18 2014
They say that when you’re a child, the world is a mirror. What you see becomes part of your identity, just like a reflection.
I don’t think I can explain how meaningful it was to be a half-Asian girl growing up in the Michelle Kwan era.
Yes, there was Kristi Yamaguchi before that, and yes, she had an impact too. I was just 6 years old when Kristi won her gold medal, but I remember the excitement in people’s voices when they talked about her performances. And I remember feeling an instinctive pull toward her, a kinship based solely on the fact that we were both Asian. Not even the same kind of Asian, but who else did I have to choose from?
When I was growing up, there were not many famous people who looked like me. Not on television or in movies, not on the radio, and not in magazines. That’s why Kristi Yamaguchi made such an impression on me. That’s why the Joy Luck Club became one of my favorite books. That’s why my friends and I watched Mulan over a dozen times.
Suddenly the world really was a mirror. One that I hadn’t even known I needed.
Suddenly I could see myself.
And for ten of my most formative years, Michelle Kwan held that mirror right up to my face and said, “You can do amazing things.” She was strong and elegant, kind and ambitious. She was hard-working and accomplished in an artistic field, one that garnered worldwide respect. If you think it’s a coincidence that there are so many young Asian-American women competing in figure skating today, then you’re delusional. Michelle revealed a new path that was open to us — and in doing so, made us wonder what other paths might be possible.
Part of the reason I love sports — and the Olympics in particular — is because they showcase the skills and achievements of all sorts of people from all walks of life. Children around the world can see athletes who look like them, or come from similar backgrounds, representing their countries, showing good sportsmanship to their competition, and maybe even taking home a medal. It’s inspiring in so many different ways.
True, we still have a long way to go before we reach fair representation in most fields — especially business, entertainment, and government — and even many sports have their skews. But every couple of years, when I watch each country enter the arena for the Parade of Nations, with athletes and coaches proudly waving and following their flag, I’m reminded that the mirrors do exist, and the reflections are only getting clearer over time.
Wed Feb 5 2014
My first memory of snow is fleeting. I was just four years old when my parents bundled me up and hurried me out the front door of our townhouse. The three of us stood in the courtyard under a gray-blue sky, marveling at the soft white magic falling all around. My mom had on her fur coat. I’m not sure I even owned gloves. For a little kid growing up in Houston, snow was as mythical as unicorns, and that day the flurries only lasted for a few minutes. But it was enough for my dad to help me make a tiny snowman, four inches tall.
When we went back inside, I sat by the window and watched the snowman melt. Though I was sorry to see him go, I was too amazed by the whole experience to truly feel sad. Snow was real and I had seen it. Anything was possible now.
Thirteen years later, I was a freshman in college, feeling happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. (Thank you for the great lyric, Taylor Swift.) Those first few months, I spent a lot of time in my room, chatting online with friends who were hundreds of miles away, and struggling with school work for the first time in my life.
One night, early in December, I was looking out my window when snow began to fall. And I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Voices sounded down the hallways, growing louder with excitement. One of the boys peered into my room and invited me to join a small group going outside. Together we ran down five flights of stairs, too excited to wait for the elevator, and burst out of the dorm into the frigid air.
We built a snowman, four feet tall instead of four inches. We had a snowball fight. We made snow angels, which I had never done before. We even tried sledding down a small hill, sitting atop flattened cardboard boxes from the recycling bin. And when we were done acting like kids, we trudged back upstairs, dripping and exhausted, and we microwaved water for ramen and hot chocolate, and we opened our textbooks with a renewed sense of purpose.
For a few weeks now, the Midwest has been besieged by extremely cold temperatures, thick snowfall, and treacherous road conditions. Schools have been delayed and canceled so often that the kids are probably going to have to make up an entire week. My neighbors groggily dig their cars out every morning, sometimes taking ten minutes or more.
But the truth is, as long as people stay safe, I don’t mind this weather. I love the way the world looks blanketed in white. I love curling up on the couch to work, and Riley pressing his soft warm body against mine. I love the hush, the smell, the glow.
Today, Riley and I walked across a field that had been completely covered by a thick layer of snow, with a thin layer of ice on top. My boots crunched through, making a faint trail along the edge of the woods. But Riley was apparently light enough that he didn’t break the ice. Instead, his paws scurried across the surface as he ran ahead and turned back, ran ahead and turned back. I smiled at the swirls of snow dancing in his wake.
Mon Jan 13 2014
This post was inspired by Shari’s “Home Sweet Home.”
A simple brick townhouse at the end of the row. Two stories tall, with a small courtyard and a single-car garage. We had a soft blue sofa against one wall, and a baby grand piano by the window. We kept our pet rabbit in a cage in the kitchen.
I remember sitting in the back of my dad’s study while he worked, reading the 1983 Farmer’s Almanac and declaring Thomas Jefferson my favorite president. I remember the big vanity in my parents’ bedroom where my mom would brush my hair, and I would point out lumps in my ponytail in the mirror. I remember trying to slide down the stairs on my stomach and getting rug burn. I remember looking out my bedroom window and imagining I could fly.
A one-story “ranch” in the back corner of a tree-lined, U-shaped street. (But we don’t call them ranches in Texas, because that term means something else here.) The owner before us was a middle-aged playboy who bricked over the yard so he wouldn’t have to mow. There’s a fireplace in the center of the house, allowing both sides of the living room to enjoy the warmth and the flickering light.
I remember climbing up to the split-level library and sliding the bookcase back to reveal a secret passage to the attic. I remember having a sleepover with three girl friends in middle school, all of us splayed out on the rug underneath the dining table, talking into the late hours of the night. I remember my first boyfriend knocking on my bedroom window, unable to climb in because it had been painted shut. I remember sitting on the roof for hours, singing made-up love songs and writing stories in my journal under the moonlight.
A two-bed, two-bath unit in a condo complex. All the doorknobs, cabinets, and light fixtures are straight out of a builder’s catalog — plain and old-fashioned, but ours. Big sliding glass doors look out over a woody hillside, where deer and squirrels like to pass by. Art adorns every wall, a growing museum of our world travels.
I remember taking couch cushions into the kitchen so I could sleep by Riley’s crate on his first night at home. I remember the excitement of putting our new bed frame together — only to find that we had left a crucial piece back at IKEA. I remember hosting a dinner party for nine of our friends, tables and chairs crammed into whatever space we could find, the air warming with the scent of pheasant and squash, our ears swelling with the sound of voices and laughter.
Over the years I’ve learned: home is just a word, until you fill it with memories.
Mon Dec 16 2013
Recently a friend asked me, “What is the point of a relationship?”
He didn’t mean it in a negative or sarcastic way. He was genuinely curious.
As he pointed out, people in our society don’t really need a spouse to secure income, housing, or other basic needs. We have friends and family to act as our support networks. We can even make babies and raise kids on our own.
So, if not to provide, then what is the point of a relationship?
Of course I could only answer for myself, and I’m not an expert by any means. But for me, the “point” of a relationship is to have a partner. A teammate. Someone to help you navigate (and hopefully enjoy) the inevitable ups and downs of life.
A relationship gives you someone to celebrate your successes with — to make the good even better. Someone to share your letdowns with — to make the bad more bearable. Someone who will push you to grow, while also accepting you as you are. Someone who loves you at your worst, but inspires you to be your best.
And someone who makes you want to do all those things for them in return.
A few caveats/addendums:
- Obviously this is idealized language. I don’t think any relationship looks or feels that perfect every single second. But hopefully at least some of those things are cemented into the foundation upon which a couple builds their daily life.
- A significant other is not the only person who can fill these roles, and not everyone even wants a significant other.
- A relationship doesn’t need to compete with friends or family. I think the best relationships tend to be complementary. (Which is not the same as complimentary — although that’s good too!)
- There’s also the physical aspect of relationships, which family can’t provide and friends usually shouldn’t.
Q: What is the point of a relationship?
A: What is the point of a song?
There is no point. A song is its own reason. People will enjoy different aspects of a song, and people will enjoy different kinds of songs. There are all sorts of things you can point to — “It sounds nice.” “It makes me feel good.” “I relate to the lyrics.” — but at the end of the day, none of those things are the point.
A song is a song. You either like it or you don’t.