Honeycombs*, Hermits and Hotels (*minor spoilers for Squid Game)

I am not alone in my obsession with class warfare, i.e, gobbling up anything involving the French Revolution and enjoying shows that vilify the wealthy such as Succession and Squid Game. One can’t escape the theme of class conflict in popular culture. During a recent car ride, a friend introduced me to the only podcast that has drawn me in to date, You’re Wrong About. My favorite episode (so far), ably lead by the two millennial hosts, dispelled many myths about Marie Antoinette and had me chortling loudly, thanks to the witty banter of the hosts and their funny, far-reaching references. I’d known that Marie Antoinette never said “Let them Eat Cake, ” but hadn’t realized that the Queen had written warm journal entries about the poor and had a sympathetic habit of taking in poor children and paying for their education. Perhaps most interesting to me was learning that she affected the trappings of the peasantry- dressing as a provincial milk maid and roughing it in an elaborate hameau (hamlet)she built at Versailles. I am reminded of how my friend and college roommate wrote her senior thesis on how French society, French artists like Millet and Courbet romanticized the life of French peasants. (Pardon me J, if I’ve butchered your thesis).

We all know that folks have been stealing the look of less privileged groups in order to appear more “edgy” for some time (e.g., Carrie Bradshaw’s gold name necklace taken from Black urban fashion, is one example my friend Michelle recently mentioned), but I was surprised this cringe-y behavior went as far back as the 18th century. If Marie Antoinette was around today, she would surely sport a necklace of her name in big gold letters.

I learned from the same podcast mentioned above that some French royals even kept a “hermit” on their estate who would get free housing in order to play the role of a wise recluse. (Kudos to the clever podcast hosts who made reference to Kato Calin!). A quick internet search about royally-sponsored hermits in pre-revolutionary France, lead me to an article about the worst jobs in history; with an admitted measure of ignorance on this topic, as an introvert and an employment attorney who hears about a host of difficult jobs, the estate hermit gig doesn’t sound so bad! (I realize, I am being an ass to make light of this; I assume, in reality, this job was probably one of servitude and degradation).

It’s probably not original to write that the hermits of yesteryear and modern day building superintendents are similar because both of them are provided a place to live rent free but are paid little to no wages on top. When I was a young adult, I joked with my husband, that I should be a building super because of the free apartment most supers get, which would make NYC almost affordable. (I thought this remembering I had a childhood friend whose father was the building super of a Fifth avenue doorman building and they had a large, luxurious apartment with a wrap around terrace). The idea of me as a building super is preposterous because I comically struggle to open the locks on my own pre-war apartment door to let guests in and out so the idea of installing large air conditioners in tenants’ windows is alarming. (For the pedestrians below, they would get a lot more than pennies from Heaven!) My romanticization of the building super job ended when I started practicing employment law and met many superintendents who were exempt from getting overtime pay under New York law and whom are typically on call 24/7. Of course, most do not get spacious abodes with wrap around terraces (more like code-violating basement apartments that are rife with mold/vermin or other niceties).

The belief that there’s something edgy or romantic about poverty is tiresome. It’s never been noble or beautiful. As a child, I went to a roster of private schools mostly on scholarship (Dalton for five years, Ethical Culture, Riverdale, Hewitt and Trinity for high school), which used to embarrass me and now gives me a strange, unique status among some parents I meet. Though I’m grateful to each of these schools for taking in this ruffian and educating me well, I sometimes wonder if being low income at some of the most privileged schools “crushed my soul.” What an oddity I was at these fine institutions with kids who shopped on Madison Avenue with their parents credit cards, skied at Vail and juggled multiple homes. Mom and I had trouble holding onto one home. I’ve memories of our geriatric landlords, a Polish married couple, who serenaded us with blistering, potty-mouthed messages on our answering machine when rent was overdue and memories of a Brazilian lady landlord named Pilar rapping at our door and yelling in Spanish for overdue rent when we rented an apartment in Tudor City. (This caused me a panic attack–I ran down the 12 flights of stairs, yelling all the way to the lobby). Then there was the time, mom fell behind on rent while we lived at the Hotel Olcott, a hotel in the West 70’s and we had to sneak past the front desk to get in and out to avoid questioning. (At the time, there was a young bellhop who liked me, which helped because he used to hide mom and I behind his trolley of suitcases from time to time.) It was that year, I had some agoraphobia-sometimes too scared to take a walk down Columbus Avenue with my mom. Other times, we stayed with mom’s friends/acquaintances; I fondly remember one such acquaintance who was severely depressed but let us stay in her spacious Fifth Avenue apartment for a modest rent; she rarely left the apartment and wallowed in one uniform: wrinkled blue silk pajamas with peacocks printed on them and if memory serves, complimentary blue kohl eternally smudged around her eyes. I remember that she pulled herself together one night to make my mother a delicious Russian chicken dish with cheese inside (Kiev?) for mom’s birthday and that she never made us feel like unwanted guests. I hope you’re well, lady, wherever you are.

I never thought of myself as homeless when I was a kid. For the homeless were the families with whom mom worked as a social worker at the Prince George Welfare hotel in downtown Manhattan. I spent hours waiting around for her to be done with her work inside the Ballroom–a breathtaking, high ceilinged room, crammed with homeless families who needed social work and other services. I met many people whom I easily distinguished from myself. Noone looked like me and few looked like mom, a white woman. The kids were generally not going to the best schools in the city and were not friends with the city’s most privileged. But I felt strangely comfortable at the hotel with its once grand lobby that smelled of urine and its solid marble floors now cracked and soiled. I felt kinship with some of the families, in particular a former military family who had wound up at the hotel. When I wrote a short story about this family in the the tenth grade, my mom and i were in and out of homelessness–though I never acknowledged it. How my beloved Trinity English teacher lavished me with praise–surprised that I had inhabited the life of a homeless boy so convincingly. (To this day, I like writing as a male narrator as it feels more anonymous and separate from my own life). I enjoyed the compliments and never told my teacher about my secret life.

I was grateful for the stability offered by most of these schools. Some of them dealt with scholarship kids in better ways than others. At Hewitt School for girls that I generally liked, the problem lay with Ms. Buck, the chubby, reviled (at least by me) Southern headmistress. I remember her jowly face, dowdy attire and her odd method of quieting a room of tween girls— clapping a pattern with her hands and demanding we copy her. One day, she pulled me out of class and explained my mother had not paid the tuition so I would have to leave the school until she paid. I vividly remember the shame of sitting on a very visible bench waiting to be plucked from a school I had grown fond of and how I had to tuck my chin in tight so no one could see my tears. Other schools handled our financial travails with more grace. During my junior year at Trinity, my mom lost her job and couldn’t pay tuition. Mom told Trinity we had to leave but they protested and noted it was time to apply to colleges. Then, in what can only be called Herculean effort, Trinity quickly found an anonymous board member to not only pay my tuition but pay our rent at the James Tower, a nice rental a block away from school. They told mom they took action because I was a talented writer and they had empathy for our plight. A human response I will never forget.

My recent observation of a heated altercation at the UWS Shakespeare and Company bookstore between a mask denier/protester and bookstore staff, affirmed my fear that our country is headed toward virulent class warfare. We are indeed not a far cry from pre-revolutionary France as shown by Trump’s followers climbing the walls of Congress to attack. I imagine we will soon give China a run for their money when it comes to class divide. Years ago I remember reading about a spate of hit and run incidents in China, often involving rich young Chinese youth running over rural Chinese people on the street; one story involved a couple who accidently hit a rural man with their car and though the man somehow survived, the couple was caught on camera, rolling over his body to finish the job. I read a memorable story of a wealthy teenager who killed a rural laborer with his sports car and fled the scene, only to be witnessed a few hours after, smoking and laughing on the hood of his car with a group of friends. At the time, I thought to myself, how savage and cruel they were and, perhaps ignorantly, how different from Americans. But we are clearly not so different. (See all the Black Americans that we’ve let be shot/choked by police officers for so long. See the way we bystand the violence and poverty in many minority neighborhoods. See how some of the most privileged New Yorkers at elite private schools leave in a hysteric rage when asked to address diversity in the classroom. Feast your eyes on the embarrassing spectacle of wealthy Manhattanites litigating to kick homeless people out of their neighborhoods. Even in the most “liberal” bastions like the UWS, privileged public school parents rise in anger when public school policy changes to allow broader access to good schools).

It is no wonder, the #1 show on Netflix is Squid Game, a Korean drama that I miraculously stomached and liked, despite some gory scenes and spurts of jarring violence. It is a show that captures the zeitgeist-the wealthy, masked barons betting on which of the 456 desperate, debt ridden game players will survive a series of children’s games where losers are killed in violent and unique ways and the winner gets more than 40 million dollars. In the manner of any good Korean drama, the writers give us a lot of back story for the main character, Number 456; he’s a disheveled, divorced father who lives with his mother, gambles away all the money meant for his young daughter ‘s birthday present and gives her the least appropriate gift possible- a large cigarette lighter shaped like a realistic hand gun. The show’s premise that there are rich people so villainous they view the poor as entirely disposable pawns and that there are swaths of society whom would overlook the high possibility of certain death to pursue the minuscule chance of winning a huge jackpot, is strangely and tragically believable.

Hearing me wax poetic about the show, my clever friend Rachel suggested I make myself a Squid Game birthday party outdoors so that is what I am doing. This week, my free moments will be spent trying to make delicate Ppopgi (Dalgona/ honeycomb candy, which is basically sugar plus baking soda on the stovetop) without burning down my kitchen, getting large, long ropes for a group tug o war ( for I eagerly wish to test the different strategies of tug o war that 001, the old man and others teach us in the show), buying mass amounts of marbles, trying to figure how in the world I will emulate the glass bridge game, learn the rules of Squid Game (which may be too rough a game for young kids) and plan a Korean menu that can be easily carted to Central Park. ( I may deeply regret the challenge I’ve taken upon myself to do this for 20 plus guests during high school application season).

See the below recipe for Ppopgi (Dalgona/Honeycomb candy) as found online. The fun game involving this treat involves players having ten minutes to pop out the cookie-cutter imprinted shape inside the candy without breaking it, which is surprisingly difficult because the candy is brittle. You get a needle but other methods can be used such as licking the candy until the shape pops out. (I’m imagining we party goers in the park looking insane as we lick the large, flat candies for 10 minutes). https://www.aol.com/dalgona-candy-netflix-squid-game-134200709.htm

With all I’ve given you to fret about, please make some of this sweet candy and relax!!

Clowns, get dressed

Sculpie of girl from True Beauty, Kdrama I liked. She has a lipstick in tow for her transformation.

I’ve enjoyed writing stories about real life Vixens but what about the Clowns? (See this blog’s prior Vixen 1-4 posts). In terms of self-care–grooming and style–many of us have been Clowns during quarantine/this past year; some of us are career Clowns, tickled that our ways have been normalized. No need for shame if your wardrobe is brim with sweatshirts and if your manicure-free nails are talons. It’s no longer just Keanu Reeves’ older girlfriend prancing around town with a head of greys! Even Vixens have joined the fray and I hear many have enjoyed the break from societal expectations. Take for example, my friend D, a successful entrepreneur and socialite from an iconic American design family; to her delight, gone are the social functions she used to frequent and the need to showcase her charms. Ensconced on a bucolic estate owned by her family she was, as I last saw her a few months ago, calm and resplendent in a messy ponytail, bare face and no shoes. Further, she told me I was the second friend she’d seen in almost a year–limiting most of her contact to her family. But the clock is ticking.

Without making light of this past year, there have been some positive notes. Whom among us Vixens or Clowns will unexpectedly miss our face masks for the anonymity they provide when we walk down the street? Personally, as someone who gets in trouble for having a face that is an open book (my friends often tell me I look bored when I am), I’ve enjoyed the fact I’m unreadable behind the mask. (Some people have expressive eyes. My eyes are like dead pools of black. I have noticed people trying to study them to figure out my mood but I’m impenetrable!) Speaking about less trivial benefits, more employers, including my own, have finally accepted the idea that working from home, to some degree, is for a wide range of workers a viable option that accommodates parents and those with disabilities. I know that one day a week when my employer requires us to return to the office most days, I can squeeze my daughter when she comes home from school, drive my son crazy with open-ended questions about his school day and wear snuggly apparel as I advise people whether their employers have done anything illegal or are just cretins.

Though I’ve enjoyed the ease of wearing clothing that morphs from daytime to bedtime seamlessly, as I walked through Central Park this past Sunday with my first Moderna shot coursing through me and a spate of cherry blossum trees on view, I experienced an epiphany–I’m ready to bust out of my cocoon in a swash of colorful, dignified clothing! Blazers and floral skirts galore. Am I ready for shoes with hard heels? Lip color beneath my mask? The possibilities are rampant.

It was hard for me not to gawk as my kids and I rambled down the path to the boat rentals; for the park was a veritable runway of stylish adults (mostly unhampered by children). Indeed, I have observed, New Yorkers are dressing very “Korean” these days—lots of cute knitwear sets, layered looks, baggy jeans, puffy sleeves, pleated mini skirts and attention grabbing hair pins for example. (If you have any doubts about the rise of Korean fashion and the influence of the Hallyu wave that comes from Kpop and Kdramas, look on the website yestyle.com that I adore, and wait a year to see the same fashions emerge in the U.S. It’s pretty fun to see).

My kids and I enjoyed a day full of minor mishaps that on paper, would suggest a fiasco.. We grabbed Subway sandwiches for lack of imagination and circled the park looking for a non-balding patch of grass (which is no small feat. Am I paranoid or are UWS lawns way more trod upon than UES ones? Is that because of all the children here or is it some nefarious scheme of FLO (Frederick Law Olmsted?) We found a patch of mud with some grass, soaked in some Vitamin D and then headed to the Boathouse. En route, we stopped at a large bank of swings and I unwisely put my five year old in the kind meant for a 2 year old. This caused me to struggle comically to lift her out, an ungraceful reckoning that caught the eye of an observant father whom, contrary to the idea that good samaritans do not exist, huffed and puffed until he lifted my little turnip out of the swing. (This was before I read about a TikTok trend of teenagers purposely shoving themselves into baby swings to get stuck). We waited forty minutes on the Boathouse line only to discover a cash only policy. Three tired gerbils re-traced our steps home. Despite the setbacks, at the end of the day, my teen son said with no discernable trace of irony “This had to be the highlight of my vacation,” which gave me immense joy and gratitude; for the world has suffered so much loss and devastation, yet we clowns were together on one of the prettiest Spring days ever.

Hope you have a good Spring everyone!

Tried to find a looser style by drawing in Sharpie fast. I’ll keep trying! The first three are of a lawyer character on a very popular Kdrama, the Penthouse. He’s a true clown and his outfits reflect that well. The last drawing is of another main Penthouse character wearing a fancy sweatshirt with a shirt layered underneath-so Korean. It’s got a cool leather collar detail that, hah, makes this “fancy” for me. Baby Steps, I guess!

Life in Bulletin

My inspirational board. Letter of recommendation by a writing teacher I admire, a “good” rejection with handwritten note that is supposedly better than just a typewritten one, photo of the police station I was left infront of as a baby in Seoul, Trump the scorpion shadow puppet I made, photo of my me and great friend Lisa during my due date week for my son. I unwisely took a train to Philly to see a treehouse exhibit like two days before my due date, photo of mom and two dear friends, my daughter in my grandmas hat.

I know I’m not the only one drawn to the scenes in movies and TV shows in which detectives analyze “crazy walls” of pinned suspect photos and maps that lay out motive, alibis and all the possibilities. The format seems to facilitate neural synapses. How nice if my sloppily affixed, overlapping collage of sorts pictured above could not solve a crime but answer lingering questions of my life! Could it organize a spastic ADHD mind that is rife with ideas and contradictory priorities? Because a morning Vyvanse pill has given me a lovely bounce of energy (love those stimulants!), but has not made a dent on my ability to multi-task and prioritize.

For those of us who have diagnosed themselves late in life, eg. taken a computer test involving clicking on a space bar when presented with images (a dubious test to me), it feels good to find like minds. On the sly, my tween son wrangled his way into my phone and signed me up for a Facebook group of moms with ADHD; upon first blush, this annoyed me, but now I fully appreciate the level of kinship I feel with my people. A recent post was a photo someone took of a mug with a tea bag string over the rim and inside, coffee. A recent example from home: my 5 year old daughter asked me for milk with her breakfast a few times, only to get handed a glass of water ten minutes later. To my great amusement, she stood behind my chair and started tracing letters on my back while giggling. I slowly recognized her message. “A”…”D”…”H”…”D”. Ah, the origins of snark.

The creative, almost trance-like state that many people with ADHD enjoy is the best gift. Recent ADHD parent posts detailed all the creativity of members from sock art, traditional art mediums, to “creating minis for tabletop gaming (??)”. Like my brethren who can hyper- focus at times, I can stuff K-drama dolls for 24 hours happily and Sculpie in my in laws’ uncarpeted, chilly basement all night. I remember drawing a book about my guinea pig as a young adult and not eating for a day to do so. The only kink is the rest of life that competes with this glorious high.

The question often posed on the Facebook group is whether we’d trade our ADHD to be more balanced people. Usually, I’d say no, as I am proud to be neurodivergent, but there are countless hair-tearing moments that cannot be denied. (Standing in front of my lobby door rooting through my bag for my keys the other day while my therapist neighbor, no joke, flash diagnosed me with ADHD or more seriously, once leaving my 2 year old in a building lobby as I pushed an empty stroller gabbing with my son for a half block before I reared (No one can run like a mother who has lost their kid!).

In typical ADHD style, I recently purchased a book called Attention Deficit Disorder: the Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults by Thomas E. Brown, Ph.D. because I’d hoped to find some solutions for the chaos in my mind and, sigh, predictably, cannot get myself to sincerely read it. (Though I skimmed enough to see there’s a section about the difficulties of starting things when you have ADHD). I have concluded, possibly prematurely, that it’s of little use to me–a list of problems and anecdotes with little celebration of the joys and a dearth of solutions beyond drugs.

How can I make sense of the noise in my head that tells me to write a graphic novel/start a play/try to get an art fellowship based on my Korean identity search and stuffed dolls/ work on my blog/write a screenplay/fill in my health insurance claim forms that are overdue/de-cluttter the apartment/do intakes for work/look into high schools for my son/find activities to do over winter break/call my mother every day and so on.

At Carleton College, I remember internally mocking a student who was very organized and would show off his detailed computer graphs of how he balanced school and fun but now I suspect he might be the one laughing. I expect he’s off somewhere living a very compact, sensible life devoid of anxiety-rearing moments and mess. But. somehow I know graphs and charts are not my destiny.

One piece of my “solution” has been my Wednesday night Zoom with my middle school friend Michelle whom I reconnected with a few years ago. Both of us have ADHD, are adoptees and have a deep appreciation for fun art. We spend our time discussing documentaries, talking about creative projects, working on said projects together, reminiscing about childhood (she reminded me how we once went with our class to the Earth Room that supposedly still exists-a SOHO room piled with dirt and puzzled at how it could possibly be art. She reminded me that I’ve always been creative–drawing cartoons over friends’ notebooks as a kid). Michelle, a talented, unique artist is a voice other than those I’ve grown up with to the contrary, that tells me it’s valuable to be creative and that I could do it full time if I chose. She also has cool ideas. I was making Kdrama dolls weeks ago and on Zoom, she showed me a Kiki Smith flip doll that was an owl on one side and a cat on the other.

“Make Kdrama flip dolls like good mother/bad mother,” she suggested that night. So I did because it is a funny, irreverent idea.

In, what I now realize is very ADHD style, our Wed night Zoom might begin with me talking about the fact that my husband, quite amused, walked in on me the other night staring at donuts on http://www.goldbelly.com and then shift to us watching TikTok videos (there’s much more than dance videos and people looking cute), interrupting that to Google the Museum of Textiles in Philly about fellowships and then maybe breaking out to do 100 arm stretches as demonstrated by YogaGirl2 (guaranteeing super tone arms if done daily). But we also give each other deadlines. I recently told her of my on and off dream of making a semi autobiographical graphic novel and/or writing a novel.( I have maybe 30 notebooks filled with novel outlines and excerpts and a handful of completed short stories. I look like a serial killer with crazed scratched out notes, often of the same material over and over).

“Write 20 life events out on index cards and then put them on your wall by our next Zoom because that’s what works in the movies,” Michelle instructed. “Then, you’ll be able to clearly see what you want to do.

So back to the bulletin board. We’ll see how it works. But I believe that if I ever complete a novel/short story collection/graphic novel/play then I will be her first client–Michelle Morby, Creative Coach/ADHD coach. Now to find a coach to help me organize the rest of my life!!

If anyone reading this has funny ADD/ADHD stories to share, I’d love to hear them and/or if anyone wants to hire coach Michelle, I can give you her info. (I should probably ask her before I offer).

My next related post:

An ADHDer’s flash review of 10 current books (based on reading the first five pages of the book)

Crafty gift idea #1 (for the long winter break etc)

I tried decorating mugs. Kids liked it too. It’s so easy and fun to do. Buy some cheap white mugs and some Sharpie oil based paint pens. Draw and then put in your oven for 30 minutes at 350. Important not to pre-heat the oven. Just stick them in and then after the thirty minutes, leave in oven for a little bit before taking out into the cold air. Of course you can do it on plates, trays. I think I’m addicted. Try it!

Kdrama mug done with oil based Sharpies. The Penthouse is so good. Watch it on Viki as it’ s not on Netflix yet.
Start-Up mug

vixen, part two

I used to covet my sister in law’s Atlanta cul de sac where she lived with her husband and two kids. Visiting her most Julys for the past twelve years, I revered what unfolded before me on her street— a mecca of multicultural bon homie. There were the two Indian families, a Black family, a Korean one, a gay white couple, a Jewish family (my SIL) and others. I envied this community–not the sulpher ditch that bordered my SIL’s home and not the thin, afterthought trees that lined the front yards–but the festivity at the close of any given workday; front doors open to careening children, cold beers passed among the fathers and the waiving Indian mother across the road on her front step painting neighbor girls’ nails–a row of pastel polish lining her bottom step.

My own experience with communal living in NYC apartment buildings consisted of one neighbor who would allow her toddler to visit us unannounced but when we tried the same, her husband would edge us out, explaining it was mealtime regardless of the hour. Speaking to friends in other cities, this disconnect between t.v sitcom city living and actual relations with neighbors, is often profoundly lonely. In my current NYC building, my neighbor, a therapist in her sixties, once asked me to complain to our landlord about the fact the other family on our floor leaves cardboard boxes in the hall from time to time; (I refused). On another floor of our building, two youngish roommates who’ve recently moved in have campaigned to try to evict a lovely elderly man who allegedly (to their bat-ears only) listened to his television too loudly. Yesterday, he passed away after having a stroke on the floor of his apartment. RIP Patrick. That’s the extent of our community.

So did I smile to myself over the phone when my sister in law reported the gradual and complete disintegration of cul de sac bliss? Maybe. It made a good story. With each phoned update, with my SIL or sometimes my MIL I was like a kid with a holiday advent calendar-the passage of time revealing new, exciting morsels.

Central to this drama was the Korean mother, an attorney, whose husband allegedly had an affair with a Korean stripper. Apparently, this life event opened the door for the Korean mom to go to Korea and leave her two tween children with her parents for more than a year in order to have head to toe plastic surgery. Fast forward and this Korean mother returned to the neighborhood wondrously lithe–the neighborhood vixen.

Doll of the character in Birth of a Beauty, a kdrama I did not actually watch about a frumpy woman who gets a head to toe makeover to become a five alarm beauty. I just wanted to make a flip doll representing the before and after and it made me laugh to make post plastic surgery bandages you could take off. Above is the woman before she gets plastic surgery. and below of course the after.
This doll didn’t work out for me but in concept it was funny.

The Vixen’s return was cinematic. As my MIL recounted, “She suddenly had a red sports car. I saw her once when she zoomed right by me, the roof opened up. I had no idea who she was.” (My quotes here are not exact because they were from a while ago but are the gist of what was told to me). Another sighting described to me in so many words: “One day she emerged from her house on a busy fall evening–families propped on their porches–wearing a neat white apron and balancing what looked like a homemade pie in one hand.” A vision of domesticity. Yet, confoundingly, another time the Vixen called SIL on the phone and asked her how to mop her kitchen floor. “I dumped my bucket of water and soap on the floor and then couldn’t mop it up.” My patient SIL had to explain the mechanics of dipping the mop into the soapy water when IN THE BUCKET.

Perhaps encouraged by the cleaning tutorial that SIL had provided without guffawing, Vixen invited SIL to grab a coffee; in the Starbucks din, Vixen asked SIL to testify against her husband in her ongoing child custody dispute. As SIL politely explained, she could do no such thing as she only knew one thing–the year the Vixen left her daughter in Atlanta, the daughter could be seen on the sidewalk watching the neighborhood kids race down the sloped street, perfectly still.

During one trip to Atlanta, SIL hurried me outside to her front porch so I could finally meet the Vixen. Sitting on my SIL’s throne-like Adirondeck chair, I gawked at the woman standing a car length away on the road. I could see her in profile, a slim middle aged woman in cigarette black pants and a subdued voice that did not carry to the front porch. She could be a slighter me. Where was the flamboyance and narcissistic sheen I had expected? Maybe it was disappointment that froze me that day. Was it possible that she was not the villainous figure I’d been imagining? Could someone almost “normal” abandon their kids for a year by choice? My interest in this one thread of a complicated neighborhood dynamic was apparently obvious to everyone but me. As my therapist noted, for someone like me who was abandoned at a Seoul police station and left in a basket as a baby, I am of course interested in why women leave their families. Do not get me started on any movie that involves foster kids/orphans. Wet Shar Pei face every time.

MY SIL told me of the evening the Vixen’s quiet daughter willingly entered her house’s basement with a group of neighborhood boys to enjoy a carefree pillow fight, only to emerge crying and complaining she was hit. After my brother in law, a physician, gave her a cursory check for damage that revealed no injury, she went home. A day or so later, the Vixen emailed the entire cul de sac of 35 plus neighbors what can only be described as a rant against my brother in law for daring to dismiss her daughter’s complaints of pain after the pillow fight. (and this was before the sensibilities of the Metoo movement). Was this a sign of her unraveling as many of us believed or had she, albeit in an unconventional way, recharged her maternal battery to focus on protecting her daughter as a mother ought? Soon after, the rest of the neighbors succumbed to the joyful disintegration—complete with angry shouting at each other across lawns, front doors closed to spontaneous playdates and comically, one irate father flipping the bird at another on the street.

I no longer envy my sister in law’s cul de sac. (She recently left it behind for a new neighborhood.) I’m fine with my disgruntled therapist neighbor who once pointed to a yellow star decoration my other neighbor affixed to our hallway wall and angrily shouted “see it’s a Wiccan symbol. A Wiccan symbol.” (It’s not, it’s just a star). But I occasionally still wonder about the Vixen. Was she deeply disturbed or someone brave enough to put herself first in order to be stronger later? I’ve never been dumped for a stripper as far as I know but I can imagine the inner turmoil and self doubt that would cause! I’ve also been at times, the depleted parent, no good to anyone. Though I’ve no plans to “refresh” my look in Korea, I dream of taking a treehouse of the world tour someday, partly alone and part with my husband and kids. Maybe what I can take from this all is that I not only can but MUST do things that are for me alone–whether it be my riotously enjoyable Wed night “creative zoom” with my middle school bestie Michelle and other artist friends of hers, going to see art like David Hockney’s drawings at the Morgan library at my own leisurely pace, “jogging” around the Reservoir with a friend or re-learning how to drive so I can rent a summer house without knocking down the mailbox while reversing out of the driveway. (True story).

Friends, take care of yourselves. xoxo

vixen, part one

My doll of the villainous mother from my favorite old K-drama, Boys over Flowers, who was played by actress Kang Hee Soo (Lee Hye Young), It’s a flip doll, just lift up her skirt and there’s the other mom on the show. I am pretty proud of her because she looks a lot like the character.
See, it flips! Thanks to my amazing artist friend Michelle who gave me the idea of making K-drama flip dolls. She’s such a mind!
The goofy, nice mom from Boys over Flowers. She had a clown-like presence, so this kinda captures her.

As I’m watching a dizzying number of Korean dramas at night, I’ve noticed there are typically two camps of mothers: remarkably well-preserved, ambitious wretches, or clownish women who devote their lives narrowly to the task of motherhood and could really use a salon visit. (See the dolls above).

With the increased cooking, cleaning and supervising Zoom education during Covid times, motherhood is at full mast. Dabbling in domesticity is difficult so more than ever we’re all expected to be Clowns. (As someone who has been known to let dust gather in my house and dishes pile, this has been a sore point). Understanding that this is a cartoonish analysis–let’s call it Clown v. Vixen–I present it to you as a fun way to assess our motherhood. Besides, who doesn’t like a personality quiz?

I wasn’t sure how I’d fare before doing the quiz below; my number put me on team Clown but closer to the Vixen line than I’d imagined. (though it should be obvious who I am; I do have a current haircut shorn by my eager neighbor Joyce on Thanksgiving by putting my hair in a ponytail and cutting in a circular direction for five minutes as demonstrated on YouTube. The resultant layers give me an unraveled vibe not unlike the second doll above).

For fun’s sake, take this quiz I’ve very scientifically devised to determine which mother you are. The assumption is you are answering these questions when COVID is not the horrid pandemic it is now.

  1. Have you ever been away from your children on a major holiday? (Boys Over Flower’s (BOF’s) Vixen mom left her son alone every Christmas so he could eat with the maids). +10 points
  2. Do you regularly cook for your children without complaining? (BOF’s clown mom made kimchi and banchan with the family and seems to cook nonstop, never whining about it.) +2
  3. Do you regularly cook but resent it sometimes or do you never/rarely cook? +9 (Vixen is never seen handling food. Other people cook.)
  4. Do you do crafts with the kids? +1 (Clown mom makes mass neon pink stuffed animal cats for no known reason with her family).
  5. Do you wear foundation/ a full face of makeup Monday through Friday? +8 (Vixen has layers at all times.)
  6. Do you dye your own hair (not in COVID times) to save time? -4 (Clown mom clearly does that).
  7. Do you follow current clothing trends and shop regularly for yourself? +9 (Clown mom is a mess fashion-wise. She loves stretched out looking lime green wool sweater vests and plaid.)
  8. Do you let your young kids share your parental bed regularly? +1 (BOF’s clown mom and dad sleep on the floor with their kids.)
  9. Do you have a paid job in an office? +5 (Vixen mom wears power suits and sits behind a hulking desk most scenes.) +5
  10. Do you like working outside the home to get a break from mundane parental duties? +6
  11. Does the idea of a long vacation without the kids appeal to you? +6
  12. Have you ever uttered the words “I can’t have fun when I’m out to dinner without the kids?” -8
  13. Have you ever fed any of your children ages 8 and up food with chopsticks or any utensil? -2 (Clown mom is often infantilizing.)
  14. Do you have a specific career/job goal for your child that you hint at and/or openly discourage certain jobs? +10 (Many of the villainous K-drama mothers want their children to carry on the family businesses. My own mother, as much as I love her, has always told me not to go into anything remotely creative, so she gets some points here).

Now what can you do with this number you’ve calculated? Absolutely nothing. You’re welcome. Stay tuned for Vixen, part two.