Christine Park

Monday, June 29, 2015

Things Lost and Gained

I REALLY was looking forward to sleeping in Sunday morning. But apparently my children did not get the memo. As my son pounded on my (always locked) bedroom door at 7:30am, I laughed to myself thinking how I used to sleep in until 10 or 11, even noon if I felt like it. Of course this was B.K. (before kids). When I grumpily asked my 5-year-old what he wanted, he replied "Can I come in? I want to cuddle with you." Instantly my irritation melted away.

That got me thinking about how different my life is compared to ten years ago. My friends without kids, or those who are about to have kids, all ask me: "Is it harder? Worse?" I always smile and say, "It's just different. Better, but different. You'll see." "But different how?" they persist. The thing about kids, their impact is hard to measure or quantify. I guess you could, thinking in terms of things lost and gained. So I decided to come up with this list. Maybe you can relate.

What I lost upon becoming a parent:     
1. Spontaneity. B.K.: Happy hour? Sure! Movie just came out? Let's go! Weekend in Napa? Which winery? Now, leaving the house requires at least a week of planning ahead, to secure a babysitter, who also has a social life, by the way, so she's never available last minute. And if you have a newborn, the preparations before leaving the house are so exhausting, you don't even feel like going out anymore. And forget about trying to coordinate with another couple who has kids. You'll have to book that double date a month in advance, after everyone's checked their Google calendars to find that one night, by some miracle, that no one has a piano lesson or swim meet, AND can secure child care. A glass of wine and Netflix has become the go-to date night instead. Sex? Only if you put it in the calendar. The only thing spontaneous is the combustion of my cute "going out" clothes, which I imagine throwing in the fire because they're more useful as fuel than just sitting in my closet.

2. Privacy. What unwritten parenting rule is there that the kids will always come to find you just as you're sitting down on the toilet? Who taught them that it was ok to barge in when someone is doing their business? Oh, that's right, I did... because I'm always going in to make sure they wiped, aimed properly or washed their hands. I swear, they're like little heat sinking missiles. They can always find me. I've had both kids walk in when I'm changing, about to take a bath, and trying to sneak chocolate... all times I considered private times once upon a time. Instead I get little hands patting my bottom telling me how big it is. Hence, the always locked doors I mentioned in the first paragraph.

3. Sleep. My loved ones know that sleep is my thing. It is my talent. My first love. (sorry honey) So this one was especially hard to lose. You all know the zombie-creating first few months of parenting a newborn. But for some unlucky ones, this continues for years. The thing is, it doesn't end when they're older. Because there are always nightmares, fevers, science projects, or a host of other reasons your kids will wake you when you are dead asleep and having the best dream.

4. Dignity. Ever catch vomit with your bare hands? Ever want to melt into the floor and disappear after your kid asked a Sikh man if he's Santa? Ever go to work with milk stains on your shirt? Ever ask a stranger if they had a diaper because your kid pooped through every single one you brought out with you? Ain't too proud to beg.

5. Time. When you are putting others' needs before your own, you aren't left with a lot of time for yourself. When I subtract sleep, work, and the time I spend making dinner, doing laundry and shuttling the kids to lessons, I calculated I get two hours max to myself a day. I'd like to read a book, start a home project, or blog. That'll have to wait til the weekend evenings, once the kids go down. Every now and then I wonder what I did before kids, when I had all that time to myself. It all seems so luxurious. Oh, that's right. I used to work out, do my nails, play piano, play tennis, scrapbook, decorate my home, binge watch TV, shop...

6. Money. Which brings me to this next point. Have you seen my preschool bill? Let's just say next year, once both kids are in public school, it'll be like getting a big raise. I started getting excited about some disposable income again. But then we were just told my daughter will need braces. Cha-ching. Dance recital costumes. Cha-ching. Don't get me started on the cost of a college education. Cha-ching. All I see are little dollar signs dancing down the drain. There goes mommy's dream of a 40th birthday extravaganza in Europe.

Lest I scare you off, child-rearing is hardly a zero sum game. What I've lost doesn't compare to what I've gained.

What I gained upon becoming a parent:

1. Joy and wonder. Seeing life through the eyes of my children has been such a thrill. It's like a second chance to experience snow for the first time, Disneyland for the first time, ride a plane for the first time, the list goes on. As adults we get jaded, often just going through the motions, been there, done that. Having kids brings a fresh perspective, a sense of joy and wonder as you teach them and show them the world. I'll never forget my kids' uncontainable glee when they first learned how to ride their bikes, how to read, and how to swim. And the swelling of pride in my chest as I witnessed them reach each milestone.

2. Humility. There's a sense of helplessness that a parent feels when they realize they can't do it all and don't know it all. I think that's a good thing. That braggadocio and swagger of your 20's mellows out to a wiser, more humble version of yourself. That's where prayer comes in. Mine goes something like this: "God, I have no idea what I'm doing. Help these children grow up into awesome adults, despite my incompetence. Amen."

3. Patience. Especially in my business, it's all about immediate gratification and deadline pressure. This does not do much to foster patience in a person. I hate waiting. I won't even go to a restaurant if the wait is over 10-15 minutes to be seated. Amusement park lines? Forget about it. That all changed when my timeline didn't matter anymore to my little ones. Have you ever had to wait for a toddler putting on his shoes while you're late for work? Or how about waiting for you picky eater to finish her broccoli? Now I can outlast the best of them.

4. New friends. I'm not a naturally friendly person. I'm an introvert. But it's been fun meeting so many mommy friends through school, field trips, and birthday parties. There's nothing like bonding over your boys' obsession with Star Wars, or both your kids having the same teacher back to back. I'm looking forward to all the wine dates, I mean, play dates with these mommies.

5. A sense of humor. You know, there are just some scenarios you couldn't even imagine happening before kids. Like never in your wildest dreams. And then when they do happen, they are just so crazy ridiculous all you can do is laugh. It's a tried and true parent coping mechanism. Like that time my friend's kid painted the walls with his poop. Or mine took a permanent marker and tatted up their arms and torsos like two mini gangstas. Or when Syd unrolled all the rolls of toilet paper and spread them across the living room and painted a rainbow on the carpet. There's no other appropriate reaction.

8. Respect for my elders. I love and appreciate my parents even more than ever, now that I have children of my own. Because I finally understand the sacrifices they made to raise me to be the person that I am today. Mad respect.

9. Purpose. I have responsibilities that are so much bigger than me. I am raising two human beings. Their entire lives and well being are dependent on me and their father. It is a startling realization, and actually quite terrifying. But this has given my life a sense of purpose, to be the very best employee, parent, wife, and friend that I can be, so my kids can see that example and strive for even greater things.

10. Super hero status. To my kids, I am Super Mom. I don't wear a cape, but they truly believe I can heal booboos, sooth tummies, conjure up cookies, find missing socks, and whatever else only a  mommy can do. Granted daddies are pretty awesome too. But their first instinct is to always call out for me. It's like the Bat signal for Gotham City. My reaction isn't always instant, but they always know I'll come to the rescue. "Thank you mommy!" is all I need. Maybe a sidekick to do the dishes and clean the toilets. I wonder how my hubby will look in a Robin costume.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Happy Mother's Day to #MomoftheYear (and all of us who dole out tough love)

I heard a story the other day. Actually I reported it. The headline read: "7 arrested in Foods Co shooting, including three minors." Imagine, being 17 years old, barely old enough to drive, not old enough to vote, and facing prison time. You may be thinking, "Those young thugs had it coming." Yes, chances are, this wasn't their first foray into crime or illegal activity. But then I started thinking, were there opportunities along the way to prevent them from taking this path? Where were their parents? Were they working all day every day just to make ends meet? Were they absent from their lives? Were they in prison too?

By now, you've seen the footage of #momoftheyear Toya Graham, who was shown beating her son on live television during the Baltimore riots. She explained why she took action, "That’s my only son and at the end of the day I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray. At that point, I just lost it,” said Graham. “I was shocked, I was angry, because you never want to see your child out there doing that.” Baltimore's Police Commissioner referred to Graham at a news conference saying, “I wish I had more parents who took charge of their kids tonight.” I think a lot of us were thinking the same thing, as we watched the images of looting, burning, and rioting on TV. That's why her tough love resonated with so many parents across the country. Sometimes you have put your foot down because kids will always test the limits. When interviewed later, the clearly embarrassed teenager acknowledged that the public beat down happened because his mother loves him. And she very well may have prevented him from being arrested/injured/killed.

You might be surprised to learn that I had a youthful rebellion of my own. I too was 17 and bored. Bored of being the dutiful daughter and straight-A student. So I started shoplifting. At first it was small stuff, like a pair of earrings here, a coffee mug there. It wasn't because I had a bad upbringing. I was raised in a Christian home with both parents. It wasn't out of need. My folks worked hard to provide everything I needed. It was for a thrill. To see what I could get away with. To impress my friends. I soon graduated up to stealing clothes from department stores. My parents never suspected a thing. I never argued with them at home (except about the typical teenage stuff like boys and dress code). I kept my grades up. I never acted out at school. But then I got caught. I was put in handcuffs and marched across the mall, my face burning in shame. I had just turned 18. They would charge me as an adult. To make matters worse, my younger cousin was with me, and so the charges included "contributing to the delinquency of a minor." But that's not what I feared the most. I feared my parents' reaction. Specifically my dad's, because he had always been the disciplinarian at home. The one who whacked us with a wooden stick when we were really naughty. But boy, was I wrong. It was my mom I should have feared all along.

She lost it. Just like Toya Graham "lost it." My mom was shocked, angry, and horribly disappointed. Nothing in my young life could have prepared me for her reaction. She came at me with scissors and cut off all my hair. One of my pride and joys. Long, straight, silky smooth, all the way down my back. Gone in an instant. A teenage girl's vanity completely stripped away. She cried and screamed at me. I ran away from home. "I'll disappear. That'll teach her," I thought angrily. But as the days went by, it sunk in. Holy cow. That's how much my mom loves me. I never shoplifted again.

Only now that I'm a mother myself, do I understand the pain I caused her. Only now can I really be grateful that she scared me straight. Only now can I grasp the concept of tough love. I am not my children's friend. I am their mother. It is my duty to raise them to be God-fearing, law abiding, good human beings. That cannot be done without a good measure of discipline. There are consequences for bad behavior. Last year, my daughter was caught lying to me about missing homework assignments so that she could go to movie night at her school. She was grounded from movie nights for the rest of the year. "Wow that's harsh," said some of my friends. But she learned her lesson. And she's been honest with me since then, even during the times when she knew I wouldn't be happy with her. I know there will be many more times when I'll have to do the hard thing. Especially during the teenage years, when (God forbid) she goes through her rebellion. Those ominous foreboding words from my mom will come back to haunt me, "Someday you'll have a daughter just like you." I used to think, "I should be so lucky!" Now I know better. Ha!

So this Mother's Day, Happy Mother's Day to Toya Graham, my mom, and the rest of us who dole out tough love because we love our kids so. dang. much.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Why I felt like leaving my dream job

I love my job.  It's something I've worked at for 15 years, nearly half of my life to achieve. It's the kind of job that when you tell others what you do, they look at you differently, curious and impressed. It's a job you pursue for passion, not for money. The perks are nice too. It's a job that gets me access to restricted people and places with a flash of a badge. I am a TV news reporter and anchor. And I love my job.

The other day, I read former CEO's Max Shireson's blog post about why he left his job to spend more time with his family. Now granted, I don't make millions of dollars and I don't travel 300,000 miles a year. In fact, I have what's considered the best schedule in the news industry: 8:30am to 5:30pm Monday through Friday. Already you're thinking, "Quit your whining, then!" Let me explain.

It's the guilt. That mom guilt that all working moms and some working dads experience at one point or another. The guilt when you realize others spend more time with your children every day than you do. The guilt when you can't attend an awards ceremony or performance because you're working. The guilt when your kids keep calling you grandma because that's who is raising them. The guilt when dinner is once again fast food because you didn't have time to cook. The guilt when you feel like your best, most productive hours and talents are given to your employer and not your family. As a working mom, these feelings are regular occurrences. And I'm gonna assume they were for my mom as well.

The thing is, despite spending long hours at our babysitter's house, home alone, or at the after-school "fun club," I don't recall ever feeling like my mom wasn't there for us. When I flip through my childhood photo albums, I see an ecstatic 10-year-old winner of the Spelling Bee. Who quizzed me on all the words? My mom. I see a beaming angel excited for the school play. Who made the costume? My mom. I see a nervous girl about to perform in a piano recital. Who sat by my side, making sure I practiced? Mom. What I didn't see at the time, or in the pictures, is what happened behind the camera. My mom pulled many all-nighters. Despite being exhausted from a long day working the cash register at the diner my parents owned, she stayed up, lovingly sewing the last stitches and ironing the material of that beautiful white angel costume trimmed in silver.   

I recently got eye surgery which put me on medical leave for 6 weeks. I couldn't work. Initially, I was pretty helpless and miserable. What I wouldn't give to just watch the news without my eye being watery and blurry and in pain. But as the healing progressed, I embraced my other job: being a wife and mom for my family. I experienced joy in doing the things I usually can't as a working mom: planning day trips with them on their days off, picking up the kids from school, supervising their homework, planning and executing delicious dinners. I heard from my kids in more detail, while the events of their days were still fresh in their busy little minds. My husband and my children expressed how much they LOVED having me home. So did I.

To make matter worse, my husband discovered this long-lost video in which he asks my then-2-year-old daughter if she likes me working at Action News. She replies, "No." He asks, "Why?" She then delivers the simplest, most heart-melting answer in her little lispy baby voice, "Because I love her. And I want her to stay home." Talk about pouring salt in my still-fresh wounds. At that moment, I looked at my husband and said, "Look at the budget. Can we afford for me to stay home?" Surely we could live without cable, private preschool and my monthly facials if it meant I could be there for my children! He looked shocked and incredulous. Understandably. I've been a career woman my entire adult life. Even while on maternity leave with both of my children, I never considered becoming a SAHM. What changed? Maybe it was because now that they're older and more aware, I feel like they need me around more. As my return date to work neared, I started to dread going back. A friend asked me if I was excited. I honestly answered, no. "But this is your dream job!" she exclaimed. I started to wonder if my dreams were different now.

Well I'm back now. And I still love my job. My return was a whirlwind of busyness, co-workers and viewers welcoming me back, and a TON of work. Fulfilling work. It was like I never left. The kids, while they expressed some regret that I was going back, never missed a beat. We adjusted to the schedule, the juggling and insanity of life B.S. (Before Surgery). And I started to become convinced again that I can be a good mom *and* a working mom too. I'm lucky enough to have an employer that allows me a break in the day (within reason), to attend class parties and doctors appointments. And I want my son and daughter to grow up with a role model that pursues her passion. And if working requires me to pull a few all nighters to find the time to bake cookies for a party, create some costumes or help with science projects, I've got a cup of coffee with my name on it.