When The “Force” Is Not With You

Yoda - Collecting Candy in a Galaxy Far Far Away

Yoda – Collecting Candy in a Galaxy Far Far Away

The day has come for our son to embrace all things Star Wars and no one could be happier than my husband. He has been not-so-secretly trying to teach our son (let’s call him “Little Jedi”) about Jedis, light sabers, galaxies far, far, away, and etc. since the day we both deemed it appropriate to allow our Little Jedi to learn the ways of the force. Now that Little Jedi is nearly 3.5, he has been allowed to watch certain Star Wars Episodes (I & IV). We often have discussions after the movies about the ramifications of the semi-violent action sequences. Little Jedi seems to get it, but it doesn’t stop him from being OBSESSED with Star Wars. Every day he plays with his blue light saber he got for Christmas from our good friends.  He also lets his imagination run wild with Star Wars figurines, an X-Wing Fighter, and Darth Vader’s TIE Advanced x1 Ship (yes, I had to google the last one!) Every time he gets in the car, he asks us to play his favorite song – John Williams’ Main Star Wars Theme Score, repeatedly.  Ironically, this was also the song my husband frequently played during their father & son bonding times, when our boy was around 2-6 months old.  May be Little Jedi remembers it, who knows?

His obsession soon turned into my worst nightmare one fateful day at Disneyland. We thought it would be fantastic to have our Little Jedi be a part of the Jedi Training Academy. Naively, we assumed that to be a “padawan learner” you just needed to show up early – first come first serve. We couldn’t be more wrong. In order to get to go up on that stage, your child has to be “chosen” by a “Jedi Master,” who uses the “force” to feel which kids “exhibit” qualities to be an apprentice. Seriously?

On our first attempt we had no idea what to expect, so we sent our son to the front line by himself, while we hung back. It was like sending him into a shark tank alone to fend for himself. He was one of the very few lonely tiny beings amongst overzealous parents with their children high on their shoulders, screaming and shouting, in the front line. He didn’t get picked. Our poor baby was outsized, out-numbered, and out-screamed. We guiltily watched in horror 3 rows back.


Teaching Young Apprentices the Way of the Force

Teaching Young Apprentices the Way of the Force

Darth Maul is Asking for Trouble

Darth Maul is Asking for Trouble

We stayed for the show. Afterwards, our son told us he wanted to try-out again. “What? Seriously?”, I asked. He was serious. I couldn’t understand it. Why would any child want to be on that stage so badly? Personally, the thought of being in front of so many people, doing anything at all is terrifying. Once when I was a kid, I was a shoe-in for a character in a school play – a girl who had a stomachache. Afraid that I would have to play the role, I told them I never had a stomachache in my life and had no idea what that was . . . I was 10!

I don’t know why doing anything in public mortifies me. It may be because I was born that way, or may be because I was raised in Thailand. The Thai culture is very complex. There’s a fine line to everything and Thai children are expected to know when not to cross it. That was a bit of a problem for me, I was never sure where the line was drawn. People would tell you to speak up, be independent, and form your own opinions, but when I did, I was scolded for speaking too much or showing off. They encouraged you to follow your dreams, but if your dreams were not to become a doctor or an engineer, as in my case, they assumed that you weren’t intelligent. They pushed you to be brave or be proud of who you are, but if you appeared to be brave or proud, they thought you weren’t humble enough, or even worse, that your parents never taught you any manners. Therefore growing up, it was simpler for me to stay quiet, hold back my opinions, and tell everyone I’d grow up to be a doctor. It was a no brainer to pretend like I didn’t know what having a stomachache looked like. I wasn’t sure if being in a play as a stomachache girl would cross any “no-no” line, but I wasn’t going to risk being humiliated. Plus, I was afraid to be in front of that many people anyway. I was content with not being brave. So the idea that my son wanted to voluntarily subject himself to another round of public humiliation was incomprehensible.

We agreed to let him try again, thinking that this time we were more experienced & well-seasoned parents, we could “help” him get picked. We stood on the front line and were determined to dive in the shark tank with him. We held him high like those other parents in the first round. We even helped him by waiving our hands around like angry cavemen. Our effort was short-lived when one of the moms tapped my shoulder and screamed in my face, “you guys are so F*#KING RUDE, you need to stand back and let your kid do it himself!” We looked at each other, completely confused. Did we just get admonished at the Happiest Place on Earth? Then we started to look around and realized that this 2nd round of Jedi selection was polar opposite from the 1st. We were the ONLY parents on the front line holding our child. Did the other parents get some sort of Inter-Galactic memo about hanging back on the sideline, and we did not?  Of course, our son didn’t get picked. I’m sure the “Jedi Master” also thought we were jerks as well.  Ashamed, embarrassed, and frustrated, we ran out of there.

After we left, Little Jedi looked at me with teary eyes and asked, “why didn’t they pick me?”  He was sobbing.  I stared at him, speechless. I was witnessing my poor 3-year old experience his first real rejection in life, one of many to come. I didn’t know what to say to him. Inside my head, I was overcome with emotions. In my mind, I had entered the “dark side” and wanted to give the “Jedi Master” a piece of my mind. Most of all, I was mad at myself for letting him be “brave,” instead of protecting him from disappointment. Of course, I knew that shielding him from rejection would not do him any good. But having to look into those sad, teary eyes, I wanted to just hold him and tell him he would never be hurt again. Finally, I was able to recompose myself and say to him, “you don’t have to cry, it’s ok that you didn’t get picked. It’s part of life. People aren’t always going to choose you, but know that Dada and I will always love you.” Do you think he understood my sage advice? Of course not, he’s 3. He threw a tantrum and then said, “OK, I wanna do Pirates of the Caribbean next.”

My Private Star Wars Show

My Private Star Wars Show

Since that happened, we returned to Disneyland a few more times, but not once did we go near the Jedi Training Academy area. We were still scarred from the experience. Not our son though, he bounced back quicker than the Millennium Falcon could jump to light speed! At home, he puts on Star Wars shows daily, imitating the one at Disneyland. He tells me often that he wants to try out for the Jedi Training again. I don’t know if I’m ready to do it again, even though I know it’s important for him to have the courage to do it. When that day comes, I know that I’ll be there to support him. But for now I’m just going to enjoy my private Jedi Training shows at home and quietly listing to all the Star Wars talks between Little Jedi and his Dada. Ones like this:

Dada: “I’m gonna go get the mail.”

Little Jedi: “I’ll go with you.”

D: “Oh great, that will be very nice.”

LJ: “Yeah cool, and we can rule the Galaxy together as Father and Son!”




I’m Spooked!

Jack O’ Lanterns circa 2011

It’s October and that can only mean one thing, Halloween is almost here again. Ok, let me take that back, October actually means two things: Oktoberfest and Halloween. To me, Oktoberfest = Good (alcohol shelves stocked with different brews paying tribute to Oktoberfest and Fall) and Halloween = Bad. It’s the month of contradictions. On one hand, I’m enjoying the peculiarly flavored Pumpkin Ale; and on the other, I’m fretting about Halloween. Even the weather agrees on the contrast, it’s hot one day and chilly the next – it can’t decide if it should embrace Fall or still hang on to that last bit of Summer.

I have a lot of friends who love Halloween and proclaim it as their favorite holiday. They decorate their houses with haunting ghosts, talking witches, and flying bats – festive, yet scary at the same time. They’re so good that even Martha Stewart would be proud. I’ve never shared this love or enthusiasm with them. In the past, I did the absolute minimum with my house. The only reason I decorated at all was to give my husband some childhood nostalgia because my mother-in-law is terrific with holiday decorations. Although, I must admit that there is a small part of this holiday which I enjoy doing – pumpkin carving. I like arts and carving a pumpkin is just another way of doing art. Other than that, every year, Halloween brings me nothing but anxiety and cavities. I dread it. It’s not fears of ghosts, ghouls, or goblins. I have fears of not knowing how to decorate my house and not having a “cool” costume to wear, which usually means I show up at parties with no costume. Yes, I’m THAT lame girl at your party.

My Former Minimalist Approach to Halloween Decorations – One String of Lights

I blame my decoration incompetence and costume fear on not being born and raised here the first 14 years of my life. This didn’t become so apparent until I had my son. The lack of a typical American childhood experience occasionally creeps up on my mothering and makes me feel temporarily inadequate as a mom – like during baby activity classes when I had to sing children’s songs that I never knew. How was I supposed to know about Humpty Dumpty, the Muffin Man, or how the kittens lost their mittens? I mean, what kittens wear mittens anyway? Thank goodness no one ever asked me to sing them solo. My son is lucky that I at least know Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and the Itsy Bitsy Spider (in Thai). Though song troubles were easy enough to fix, I bought them on iTunes and practiced. Yes, I practiced them in my car until I mastered them. I wasn’t gonna let Baa, Baa, Black Sheep get the better of me!

Sorry, I strayed from my main topic a little. Let’s get back to Halloween. There’s really no quick fix for my Halloween fears.

Growing up in Thailand, I didn’t know much about Halloween. We don’t celebrate it. There are no children in costumes going Trick Or Treating at dusk. The idea of having your children walking around asking strangers for candies is unfathomable in Thailand. I remember my mom once asked me if I was scared someone would give my kid drug-laced candies, because surely, according to her, they would do that in Thailand. Of course, there’s no evidence to back up her claim.

I have so many friends who always have spectacular Halloween costume ideas. One of my dear friends, Hanna, always has the best ones. She thinks and plans her costumes weeks in advance, and every year, she always ends up with something amazing that has me saying “now, why didn’t I think of that?” On a few occassions, she and her husband synced their outfits and made a duo that rivaled Heidi and Seal’s Halloween numbers.

My first Halloween costume and Trick Or Treating experience in the U.S. were quite memorable. Not having ever experienced Halloween before, I remember being confused when someone asked me what I was going to be. After learning from some of my girlfriends that wearing a sexy outfit was practically a pre-requisite, and they all were wearing one, I decided I would be a street walker. I really thought it would be “cool.” While I didn’t own any Vegas-appropriate attire at 14, I had friends who did. So with their help, I was able to accomplish the look. It didn’t take long into my first Trick Or Treating adventure for me to realize that my outfit was not “cool.” In fact, I noticed the horror on the faces of the greeters, who expected to open their doors to some little kids with cute animal costumes, and instead, they found me, a teenage street walker, at their door steps. Eventually, I stopped knocking on doors. I didn’t do much better the following year, showing up dressed as one of my swim coaches. He was not thrilled. Two failed attempts, I just never wanted to dress up for Halloween again.

My son was 2 when he began to understand what Halloween entailed – spiders, witches, lots of scary stuff, and of course, candy. This year, his awareness of the holiday is even more evident. He decided back in May that he wanted to be a pirate for Halloween. He remembers everything from the last Halloween and often tells me now it’s not a good idea to go to one of my friends’ houses because her witch terrified him last year. Last week, he asked me if we will have “Halloween stuff” at our house too. His question struck me hard and I didn’t have an answer for him.

I thought about it for a while. What kind of environment do I want to create for him to grow up in and what kind of fond childhood memories do I want him to remember. If there’s one parenting mantra I want to live by as a mother, it’s that “you’re only a kid once.” It’s one of the most important lessons I learned from my own parents. Raising children in Thailand (as in most Asian countries), it was difficult for my parents not to get caught up in the world of “Tiger Moms” and “Wolf Dads,” but they did a great job giving me and my siblings our childhood. We didn’t have to spend countless hours practicing music or being tutored (this is not to say we didn’t do these things, we did, just not on the same scale or intensity as other Thai families). I never mastered playing the piano or the violin and didn’t grow up to be a doctor or an engineer and they’re ok with that, and so am I. I want the same thing for my son. Even if I never grew up with Halloween and don’t particularly care for it, it doesn’t mean that my son can’t have his. It doesn’t mean I’ll give him a free pass to Halloween either. My house is not going to look like a haunted house and he’s not going to have candy for dinner. There has to be balance. So, I want to make an effort, starting with some decorations around the house, and later, finding, hopefully, an appropriate costume to go Trick Or Treating. And who knows, maybe he’ll end up with some Halloween nostalgia after all.

My New Effort

New Set of Lights

Flying Witch Decal – A Lot Less Scary Than a Talking Witch

Because I’m Not His Nanny…

Nanny Love

Before my husband and I became parents, friends and even strangers would tell us, “you guys would make the cutest babies.” As much as I would like to imagine that people made these comments because they thought my husband and I possessed the looks of super-models (let me emphasize the term, “imagine,” because in reality, we look nothing like super-models); they made these remarks based on the fact that we were a mixed race, Asian-Caucasian, couple. This is not an assumption on my part. It’s the truth, because that flattery about making the cutest babies was usually followed by, “mixed babies are always so cute.” I never took offense. These comments were generated equally by both my worlds. In Thailand, people went even further to say that our mutiracial babies would likely become models or actors in Thailand because they would be so good looking. I skeptically dismissed the idea that doors of opportunity would magically open to my unconceived children.

I was also dubious about the generalization of mixed-race couples making cute babies. Surely, they couldn’t bypass all the genetic coding just because they were making multiracial children. But I’m not gonna lie, sometimes, I did wonder if my husband and I would, indeed, make cute babies. What I never expected, though, was that one day I would have a child of my own and people would assume he wasn’t mine.

“I don’t charge anything to take care of this child since he’s MINE! But I would probably charge you an arm and a leg to take care of yours,” I once replied to a lady I met at a park. She wanted to know my nanny rates. She even complimented me on how I was so unusually affectionate toward the baby, for a nanny. On another occasion, a nanny approached me and said “the baby is so adorable, what are his parents?” Confused, I asked her to clarify. I was pretty sure I didn’t give birth to a Vulcan baby. She was shocked to learn I was the mother. Some were more reserved and would not say it outright, instead they would simply say, “what a beautiful baby, must look a lot like his daddy.” Ouch! I didn’t know which one stung my motherly pride more; the assumption that I was a nanny to my own flesh and blood, or the fact that my child couldn’t have possibly inherited his good looks from me. Either way, I was wounded.

The worst one happened in Thailand when my son was 1.5 years old. It was his first trip there and I couldn’t wait to introduce him to everyone. My parents took us to an old temple in Ayutthaya Province. While I was holding my son, a man accosted me. He demanded that I returned the child I stole from the Italian couple walking ahead of me. Imagine that, I went from being a nanny to a child snatcher.

These awkward encounters seem to happen less now that my son is 3. Maybe he is starting to resemble me a bit more. Or maybe it’s because he can now speak like a little human and refers to me as his mother for others to hear. Every now and then, I hear people telling me that he looks more like me now and then a few hours later, someone else says he looks more like my husband, all in one day. To me, he looks like a good mix of both of us, but then again, I’m his mother, so that makes me biased. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter to us who he looks like, but the one thing we know for sure, from the moment he was born, he’s the most beautiful little boy we have ever known. And he’s ours.

Feeling Stuck…

Bridging Both Worlds

“I feel stuck,” I lamented to one of my girlfriends over the phone.
“Stuck with what?” she questioned.
“Everything in life,” I replied.
“Why don’t you start a blog?” she suggested.

Here I am, attempting to “unstuck” through blogging.  I hear it can be therapeutic, so I’m going to try it out.

I was born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand. The first 14 years of my life were there and then I relocated to the United States.  My parents and siblings never came here to live with me.  I never returned to Thailand to reside…yet.  So I still have strong ties to my motherland, while the U.S. is intrinsically home to me.  I regularly shuttle between the U.S. and Thailand.  Having felt “at home” at either place also means feeling unsure where I truly belong.  Stuck.  It’s how I feel. Stuck between two worlds.

It’s been 20+ years since I moved from Bangkok. I’m married to a wonderful man and raising a beautiful boy who possesses endless curiosity. I feel stuck, yet again, this time in marriage and parenthood, but in a really really good way.  Before my little 3 year old was born, I paid very little attention to how I managed to cross back and forth over the invisible cultural divide (or the massive Pacific Ocean) or over the imaginary bridge between my two worlds.  Now that my son is here, I am no longer being stuck alone between the two worlds, he’s stuck with me.  The last three years, I’ve been navigating both cultures more carefully with him piggybacking on me, while dealing with the everyday highs and lows of being a parent.

I thought long and hard about the main title of my blogs. Then I thought, one of the things Thai people love to do is eat. Yes, they love their food and all the spiciness and heat that comes with it. It’s no secret that some Thais make a habit of sneaking in dried chilies through customs when traveling around the globe. Contrary to how Americans believe that Thai people add peanuts to everything they eat, Thais actually don’t consume that many peanuts. It’s the spicy chilies that they want. They put that stuff in everything from breakfast omelets to hot dogs to make it more “Thai.” With this little quirk of being Thai, Tom Yum Soup (Wikipedia defines it as “a spicy clear soup”) was aptly chosen as the first part of my title. The Soup is one of the national prides. The second part of the title, “hamburgers,” to me, is the quintessential food to eat in the U.S. Why else would anyone, in their right mind, wait in the long and tedious line at In N Out Burger? Together, the title “Tom Yum Soup or Hamburgers Tonight” sheds perspectives on my life with my family. Every day, I’m confronted with attempting to make decisions that would make sense for both cultures, especially at dinner time. A lot of moms and dads can attest to the difficulty of feeding a 3-year old. Getting my son to sit at the table and eat anything at all is a challenge in itself. On top of it, I also have to worry about whether or not he’s consuming enough of Thai-ness or American-ness today and if I can sneak in more of one or the other at dinner time.

If you have free time or are feeling stuck too, I invite you to come along on our journey through this blog.   Though most of my writing and reflections will likely be about raising a child to survive, flourish and cherish his special gift of being a child of two worlds; it will also deal with the struggles and triumphs of being a mom.  As we often hear about authors having writer’s block, I too, like many moms (or dads), occasionally suffer from “mommy’s block.” Mommy’s block often makes me feel stuck and question my parenting skills and choices.  I’m not sure what I will accomplish from sharing my stories and experiences, but I hope that you will find it entertaining or may be even helpful.

Thank you for your visit and Sawasdee (hello and goodbye in Thai).