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Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Incident at Songjeong Beach

This trip started badly: a scooter was sort of blocking my way out of my parking space, but I thought I could get through.  Horyon told me to be careful not to bump into the car on her side, so immediately after telling her I would be careful, I scraped his bumper.  I was so angry.  I wanted to kick over the scooter and slap Korea across the face for its universally poor parking lot designs.  Of course it was an imported car.  The owner was very kind, and told us he would have the paint retouched rather than replacing the bumper.  He was more interested in having harmonious relationships with his neighbors than profiting from their mistakes.  I was grateful, but before he came to look at the damage I paced back and forth like a caged tiger, ready to call off the whole trip.

I didn't.  I couldn't have without making many, many people very annoyed with me.  So I calmed down and tried to pray a bit while I waited for Horyon to program the GPS.

We went to Songjeong Beach here in Busan with some of Maxine's classmates and their families.  It was kind of rainy and cloudy on Friday, and it never completely cleared up.  Maybe it's because I'm from Kansas, but I don't really enjoy the beach that much:  the sand gets into everything, the crowds are annoying, and the need to keep an eye on my kids takes away from the experience.  I would rather be hiking in the mountains.

Still, the kids had a good time, and built up a serious appetite.  

We were prepared for that.

We stayed at a "pension".  In Korea, this means a large room that you can rent for the day, or overnight.  They typically have only tables for eating off of, and mats and pillows for sleeping.  This one had the thinnest mats ever, and funky blocky pillows that did not ease my weary head.  This pension also had a rooftop space for grilling and eating.  In the days before we went I bought sausages and made hamburgers with beef, ground onion and garlic, and spices.  I grilled them, and was hailed as a master chef.  Granted, most of them had never had a hamburger better than a Big Mac, but I will take whatever praise I can get.  We also cooked some small pork ribs and sam-gyap-sal, the bacon cut of the pig.  We also had soup and rice, because otherwise it wouldn't have been a meal, right?

The next day we hit the beach again.  The weather was much more cooperative, sunny but not too hot.  Around noon Quinten needed to go to the bathroom, so I took him to one.  On our way back, I was walking behind Quinten, and stepped around some people who had walked into my path as a wave approached.  I started walking again, then looked around for Quinten.  He was no longer in front of me.  I looked out into the water, but didn't see him.  He wasn't behind me, and upshore was so crowded with people under umbrellas that I couldn't imagine him making his way through that.  I walked back to our group, looking for him the whole way, but didn't see him.  So I turned around and walked back to where we had re-entered the beach after using the bathroom.  No luck.  I walked back and forth a couple of times, then went to our group and asked if they had seen Quinten.  Someone told me that Horyon had taken him to the showers with Maxine.  I was a bit upset that Horyon hadn't told me, but also relieved that I hadn't actually lost him.

So I ate some fried chicken and relaxed.  And wondered if the language barrier had just bitten me in the butt.  I shouldn't have wondered.  I should have just assumed that it did.

A few minutes later our group and I noticed that they were making an announcement over the loudspeakers about a lost boy, six years old (Quinten's Korean age), wearing a blue shirt, and attending Quinten's kindergarten.  So some of us started walking to the police station to pick him up.  My feet were a bit tender the next day because I didn't notice until I was halfway there that I hadn't put my shoes on, but there was no way I was going to go back at this point.

In the first picture below, you can't see the police station because it is behind the picture of Horyon and me.  It took me more than 10 minutes to walk/jog there.  It was easy to find because there is a big 119 on the outside of the building, and I could hear Quinten crying from outside across the street.  When we got inside he couldn't stop because he had gained so much emotional momentum.  I picked him up and held him as he sobbed on my shoulder.  

My emotions at this point were mixed.

I felt sympathy for Quinten, but it was a very tempered sympathy.  Every child needs to learn how it feels to be lost, go through the tears, the certainty that Mommy and Daddy are gone forever.  It teaches us that our actions have consequences, a lesson that Quinten is still working on.  One of his favorite expressions right now is, "It's all your fault!"*  I don't think that he views the consequences dealt by me as being independent of his actions, but he does sometimes think that these consequences are unfair.  It's difficult to convince a child that parental consequences are honestly designed to be far less severe than worldly consequences.  When I held him in my arms, he was wetter and sandier than I expected him to be.  He confirmed that he had gone back into the water, and I came as close to lying to him as I dared: I told him that he got lost because he walked away from me.  I left out the part about how if I had been watching him more closely, he probably wouldn't have gotten lost.  I will tell him that sometime, but when he was feeling scared and alone, I wanted him to understand his part in that, without letting him shift the blame to me or anyone else.  I want him to remember that feeling the next time he thinks about taking off when there are a thousand people around.

Another feeling I had as Quinten cried in my arms was a kind of nostalgia.  I can't remember the second to last time I held him as he cried like that.  The last time was just two weeks ago when we said goodbye to my parents, but before that...?  It seems like only a few months ago that he had no words at all, and holding him was the only way to make him understand that I love him.  I don't miss the diaper changes, or the feeding hassles.  I still rejoice that he puts his shoes on the correct feet all by himself.  But the simplicity of the emotional relationship with a baby is undeniable: you offer unconditional love, and do your best to train the little beast to become a human.  Granted, the end of this training is still under the distant horizon.  For all I know, my parents may still consider me incomplete in this regard.

Of course I also felt relieved, grateful that he hadn't drowned, or been picked up by a statistically insignificant kidnapper working the beach, or suffocated under the hoards of beach goers.  My relief was oddly spread out, not really spiking until the unpleasant possibilities came to mind after Quinten was already in my arms.  As soon as I understood the announcement I had a simultaneous jolt of panic and relief.  That one kept popping in and out of my mind for the next half hour, especially when they announced that he was uncomfortable (or perhaps inconsolable?).

And I was angry.  At myself.  My moment of inattention could have cost me one of the most valuable things I have been entrusted with.  I was acutely aware of my language limitations.  I felt like an idiot for trusting anyone else to tell me where Quinten was.  I was angry at the situation as well: I hadn't really wanted to go on this trip, don't like the beach, and quickly grow tired of crowds.  I flashed back to the fender bender that started the trip, my lousy night of sleep, the yap and chatter of the kids who came along.

Anger.  Relief.  Nostalgia.  Sympathy.  If you had asked me at that moment how my weekend was, I probably would have said something rude.  I was so quick to set aside the positive experiences of the trip.

I got to be the head cook for Friday night's dinner, and it was fun!  I was back and forth between two grills that had very uneven heat, moving burgers and sausages so that they would be properly cooked.  I love a challenge like that!  I served up burgers and sausages to almost everyone there, and nothing makes me happy quite the same way as giving people food that I've made.  Especially when their reaction is to eat with gusto and tell me that it is all delicious.  I had some beer as I cooked and ate, adding a lovely buzz to the mix, loosening my tongue, and making me more pleasant company.  Later in the evening we opened a bottle of wine, and I got to be the sommelier, pouring plastic cups for all the adults interested.  My kids had a great time, playing in the sand and water, being with friends.  Even getting lost only brought Quinten down for about an hour.  The rest of the time he was on top of the world.  And it was Maxine's first time to see a lot of these friends since we left for America a month and a half previously.  She was the main reason we planned this outing, and I don't believe she had a single discouraging word to say about the trip (if I don't count "Are we there yet?").

As with any event, the details fade with time.  It's up to me to decide which gems I will sift out to keep.  I could very easily hold on to the annoyance, the bitterness, the anger.  They are kind of sticky, and require some effort to leave behind.  I choose to hold on to the smiles, the tasty burgers, the smiling kids, and the lessons learned.

*Expressions like this are so adorable coming from him that it is difficult to avoid smiling.  When he constructs his own sentences they are not so precise, so these perfect chunks are out of place in the cutest way possible.

p.s.  Photos for Uncle Bob.

Postcard mode is fun.  Simultaneous selfie and surroundings.
One of my cooking partners.

Eating dinner on the roof.

The later stages of cooking, involving vegetables.

Breakfast on Saturday.

Quinten making something on the beach.

We got more sun on Saturday.

Maxine got too much sun.  Cucumber face!
Don't worry, it's not a permanent condition.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Goodbye

When we arrived in Kansas, the way Quinten ran to his Grandpa, jumped into his arms, and held his hand without even looking back at me brought tears of joy to my eyes.  Today, when he realized that we were saying goodbye to Grandpa and Grandma, his sobs tore me apart like nothing ever has before.  I had no idea how hard it would be for him to leave, and for me to take  him away.  The relationship between my father and my son was more beautiful than I could have imagined.  They made things together, swam together, and sat by each other at meals without fail.  Every day I saw five years old and 71 years old connect in the way that only happens when each calls the other "Grand."

"We say goodbye to Grandpa forever?"  Choke.  I must answer without sobbing.

"No.  We'll see Grandpa and Grandma again."  But there is a lie in this truth: in no time at all, five-year-old Quinten will be gone forever, replaced by six- and then seven-year-old Quinten.  The next time he sees Grandpa and Grandma it won't be the same.  It can't be the same.

"The day after the day after tomorrow?"  He's only recently learned this phrase and the meaning behind it.  This is the furthest he can conceive of the future.  More than a week might as well be a million years to him.

"No.  It will be longer than that."  I don't lie to my kids.  Delaying a painful truth doesn't make it any less painful.

"I HATE saying goodbye to Grandpa and Grandma!"  I've been trying to strike the word "hate" from our family vocabulary, but I can't correct him on this one.

"Me too, buddy.  Me too."

We share my handkerchief, soaking it through.  My sleeve is soaked with tears, and I don't even try to hide it.  We are the last passengers to get on the plane, and the stewardess asks if he is ok.  I say yes, because even thinking of a longer, more honest answer, threatens to shatter the veneer of control barely covering my grief.  Later I manage to get as far as, "We just said goodbye to Grand... my parents."  Deep breath.  Blink away tears.  Let the nice lady get back to her work.

Quinten continues to cry for the next hour.  He stops for a few minutes, then resumes again. I wouldn't stop my tears if I could, but I hold back my sobs until he is asleep, leaning on me, still holding on to my arm.  I know that if I let it all out in front of him Maxine will join us in breaking down completely.

Maxine is sad as well, but she remembers saying goodbye; she knows that reunion is possible.  She has just experienced it, and loved it.  At eight years old she has a broader perspective of time than Quinten at five.  This was painful, but she clearly remembers her friends and home.  Quinten's universe barely spans a few weeks ago to a few days from now.

My parents wait in the security check line with us for a while, but when Quinten start crying, and Maxine joins in, my Mom has to leave, and Dad with her.  The gravity of a five-year-old can only be overcome through distance, and the tidal forces after one hug will rip you apart.

It doesn't help that it is five in the morning.

It doesn't help that I had set my alarm wrong and only woke up when Dad knocked on our door.

It doesn't help that I had slept less than three hours.

It doesn't help that I don't want to go either.  I want so badly to stay with my parents, to not take Maxine and Quinten from their Grandpa and Grandma.  I don't feel like I am going home, I felt like I am leaving home.

I tell myself that this wouldn't hurt so much if the visit hadn't been so good.  If we had stayed in my parents home instead of renting a condo, we would all be so sick of each other that we would be sighing with relief at this moment.  If I had brought the kids to Kansas out of a sense of duty I would be satisfied with a job well done.  If we had come just to see the sights we would be taking all we need in our cameras and eyes.  If we had only planned to eat American food until we couldn't eat any more we... Well, I am pretty much satisfied on that front.

What I received from this trip was something that I can't put on an itinerary, and can barely put into words: it was like I got to hug my grandmother Maxine again, though she's been gone since I was in junior high.  I got to hear my Grandma Sack laugh again, though her body followed her mind into darkness shortly after I got married.  I got to walk with Grandpa Sack again, though the cancer finally took him my freshman year in college.  I got to visit Grandpa Euler in his office at Goodyear Roofing and Heating again, though both Grandpa and the building are gone.  There is such joy in this that my heart can barely hold it, as well as a mourning of both the past and future.  Some day my Mom and Dad will be gone.  Quinten will miss them terribly, but if God wills it I will hold his children and be their Grandpa before it is my turn to move on.

A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.