I'm not very fashionable. I'm a jeans and sweaters kind of gal in the winter, capris and t-shirts in the summer. I don't really like to shop. I look presentable most days, but I wouldn't say I have my own personal style or anything. I do own and wear a lot of orange, but that's about the most unique aspect of my wardrobe.
John was the same way. He was all about jeans and sweaters and cargo shorts. He missed the Korean gene that encodes for never leaving the house without looking 100% put together. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law always look impeccable. Gorgeous clothes, polished makeup, perfectly coiffed hair. Most Koreans I know—especially women—take pride in their appearance and feel that they are letting themselves down if they go out looking anything but their best. Oh, they may wear jeans and dress "down" on occasion, but they always have a sophisticated polish that I lack.
This past Sunday, I indulged myself by not taking a shower before the twins got up. I slept in until after 7:00, rolling out of bed only when the sweet chatter in the babes' room turned pressingly fussy. I got the kids dressed, but stayed in my pajamas myself through our breakfast of pancakes with maple syrup and eggs with cheese. The kids got syrup all over themselves during breakfast, which I made a halfhearted attempt at wiping off, but most of which dried as spots of sweet sheen on their shirts and pants. Riley was wearing Maddie's pink flowered shirt, as he likes to do. When I finally put on some real clothes, I chose the same outfit for the third day in a row: Patriots t-shirt, blue hoodie, jeans, and SmartWool socks. My hair was in pigtails. I did wash my face and put on some lip gloss, but that was the extent of my effort.
Later in the day, the kids and I did some fingerpainting; I put oversized, pre-stained, hand-me-down shirts on the kids to keep them somewhat clean. After fingerpainting, Maddie refused to take off her smock, so she was in a too-large, stained grey t-shirt and hot-pink stretch pants. And I didn't do a great job of cleaning off her face, which had taken a hit during the painting process.
Let's just say that we were looking . . . rumpled. Comfortable. Relaxed. Casual.
We headed out to the co-op for some playtime. The past few weekends, I've run into the same woman there. She is Korean, a doctor, and a really nice, interesting, smart person with a daughter about the twins' age. And guess what? She always looks like a million bucks. As the twins and I come staggering down the stairs, who should I see at the bottom? You guessed it. With her husband and parents, all looking sharp. Her daughter was perfectly turned out, too.
We exchanged pleasantries, and the kids played together some during the hour or so we were there. But seeing her and her family, I felt very conscious—self-conscious even—of my lowbrow look. I was aware of the kids' stained clothes, my own unwashed and untidy garb. I don't think this woman cared. But still. As I do any time I'm around a stylish Korean woman, I started to think about respecting myself, what it means to put my best foot forward, whether or not it matters if I'm put together every time I walk out the door.
It also made me think of this post from CityMama over at Kimchi Mamas. Like CityMama at swim classes, I feel so pulled to this woman at the co-op. I couldn't wait to tell her that my kids are half-Korean. When she introduced me to her parents, she gave them my name and the twins' names and hastened to add, "The twins are half-Korean!" to the introduction. Since John's death, I feel so out of the loop on things Korean. I almost never cook Korean food anymore (that was his domain, and he was really, really good at it), and the twins don't even like rice. In fact, I only cook brown rice at home now, on the stovetop. When John was alive, it was white rice in the rice cooker, all day, every day. I don't go to the Korean market or to Korean restaurants. I could make the effort, but with the parent who personified that half of the twins' identity gone, it's been all too easy to go back to being just another Caucasian American family.
I want to connect with women like the one at the co-op. I want people like that in the twins' lives, more regular contact with their Korean halves than the sporadic visits from their grandparents, aunt, and uncle. I toy with the idea of going to a Korean church or to sending the kids to Korean school on Saturdays when they get older. But the Korean church that John attended growing up was the bane of his existence, a place filled with awful memories, and the source of all things about the Korean community that he hated. I know he would not have wanted the kids to be involved in a Korean church on any level, and knowing that gives me pause. I also know that hapa kids are not always welcomed with open arms at Korean churches or in their Saturday Korean schools.
My kids will probably encounter racism as they grow up. I want them to know what their Korean heritage means and be proud of it, be proud of being half-Asian. One of my coworkers is married to a woman who is half-Japanese/half-Caucasian, and she likes to tout her "hybrid vigor." I love that. I want the twins to believe the same—that their two halves make them a stronger whole. Any mixed-race people out there have advice on how to honor both halves of the whole?