Archive for October, 2012

The Boy with Four Parents10.19.12

Looking at him now with gaunt cheeks, long arms and legs, and shaggy hair, it’s hard to see how he’s the same little chipmunk cheeked boy with arms and legs so soft and pudgy it makes you want to bite them. He’s all grown up now, gone is the little mischievous boy that we worried would grow up to be a terror, in his place, is a shy reserved teenager that seems unsure of what to say around his family. He is the youngest in our family, with a fifteen years gap between him and the next youngest sibling.

When I was a sophomore in college, shortly after returning to school in Claremont, California, I got a long distance phone call from my little brother back home in Seattle.

Brother: Guess what?
Me: Chicken butt?
Brother: Yes! No. Mom’s pregnant.
Me: No way! Gross! That’s a terrible joke. Stick with the chicken butts.
Brother: I’m not joking.
Me: No, I don’t believe you, you are a terrible liar. You can’t even stop yourself from laughing.
Brother: I am laughing. But your mom is pregnant.
Me: Noooooo.
Brother: Call big sis. You don’t have to believe me.
Me: You’re being serious?
Brother: Yes.
Me: Ewwwwwwwww! Gross!

I returned home for winter break, and my mother was six months pregnant. I think I was a bit confused by her presence and maybe even feeling a bit of disbelief, since when I left she was not pregnant to my knowledge and suddenly she’s all huge and waddling. Almost like if you haven’t seen your friend in a few years and you see him again and he’s grown a beard and gained a hundred pounds. What the hell man? You’ve really let yourself go! (No, I’m not trying to call my mom fat indirectly or directly.)

Then I come back in the summer and there was a mewling infant with lips that we’ve all inherited from my father. Since I missed out on much of this pregnancy progression, the baby could have been dropped off by a stork for all that I knew.

I feel bad that I never got to really know my youngest brother while he was a baby. I was away for college, and then completely moved out of the house shortly after graduating. He was just the really cute kid that kept losing baby fat every time I saw him.

All the siblings, me included, were hard on him because we were so worried that he would grow up spoiled, that he was admonished for every little thing he did wrong. Sometimes he was corrected before the action even occurred. Unlike all of us, he grew up during a time when my parents could afford to spoil him. However, all the spoiling he got out of it was all of us telling him, “NO!” I remember one day when he was maybe eight or so, I spied some chocolate on the kitchen island. I said, “Oh, what’s this? Chocolate? Let’s eat it!” He replied, “No, mom doesn’t want me to eat chocolate.” I told him, “Oh come on, you’re a kid, you’re supposed to eat chocolate. I won’t tell mom.” The poor kid can do no right in the house. He never touched the chocolate.

My mother was never the nurturing type. She’s definitely more a businesswoman. We, the three elder children, were raised by my maternal grandmother. She loved us dearly, and though she would often insist that we listen to our parents, she would occasionally go to bat for us. We grew up knowing that if it really mattered, we could work toward a “yes”. Unfortunately in her old age, she couldn’t stay in Seattle’s wet cold climate and moved to Los Angeles with my aunt. My youngest brother never got to know this dear sweet woman, who laughed so hard she would fart, and then laughed even harder when that happened. Instead he got a wonderful nanny who still works for us to this day. The nanny is like a family to us, but she can’t go to bat like a grandmother for him. Instead she teaches him to be the child that should be seen and not heard, because she saw it to his favor to never incur the wrath of her employer since she could not go to his aide if he got in trouble.

He was born with a lot riding on his little shoulders. My parents have always had a very rough marriage with my father carrying some old fashioned misogynistic views and wandering eyes. They grew up in a different world; my maternal grandmother was a third concubine. My mother thought if she could give him another son, during a time when their life was finally good and successful, it would keep my father from straying. So he was to be the “boy that saved the marriage” — the golden child. But as we all know, saving a failing marriage requires a lot more than a child, whatever precious metal you address him as. A couple years after the little one’s birth, my mother filed for divorce from my father as a wake-up call. Much to her surprise, he went through with the divorce and less than a year after got remarried then had children with the new wife. In the early years, we would try to bring the baby brother to visit his father, assuming he wanted some kind of father in his life. Then right about the time he was five, we noticed he was getting visibly distressed whenever these visits would turn up, he was picking up on how much it these visits hurt our mother so he preferred to not go. We didn’t try to force a father-son bond after that, not that my father made much effort himself. It’s been so long since my father made an effort to see any of us that I’m pretty sure even if his boy walked by him now, he wouldn’t know it.

After the divorce my mother watched my brother like a hawk for any signs that he might turn out like his father. Whenever there’s a luxury item my brother might like, my mother would oppose it because spoiling him might make him more like my father who always seem over-entitled. The four of us debated for weeks on whether or not he should have a cellphone to use for emergency, my mother made it sound like giving him a cellphone would instantly turn our youngest into a wife-beating womanizer.

Despite his constant worrying about what we think, his personality is slowly emerging. He runs track. He plays the cello. He takes silly photos with his friends. He excels academically without help from any of us. He’s extremely empathetic. He has a strong bond with our mother, much to our surprise since she’s often away for work. He really is the golden child. I never realized how much grief he saved all of us until I recently spent an entire vacation with my friend’s teenager who balked at every meal that he didn’t choose and did exactly what his parents advised him not to do.

Still, he’s always afraid of being a nuisance to us because he is at an age where he doesn’t have anything to offer us. There are no burdens he can bear with us yet. No life lessons, heartbreaks and disappointments shared. He doesn’t understand yet that being there for your siblings during the good times and bad is a privilege. He’s never had an “I HATE YOU FOR ETERNITY” shouting match with any of his three siblings and promptly made up a couple hours later. When he asked for rides, he apologized profusely like he just ruined my life. He lacks the self-entitlement most kids his age has.

He’s seventeen now and ready to leave the nest. I know he really wants to get into a good college for himself. I can see that he’s anxious as well to test his wings on his own, the little mischievous boy is still there, waiting for a moment when there is chocolate on the table with no one around to tell him whether he should or shouldn’t eat it.

As strange as it was in how I met this little boy, I never thought that seventeen years later, I would be in the position of trying to apply to law school right as he’s trying to apply to undergrad college. I feel a little privileged that I get to share in his moment of, “OH MY GOD, I hope they like my personal statement. Does this make me sound doofus? Or a pretentious asshat?” And I hope this is the first of many more moments to come. Welcome to the folds, my brother.

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It’s Like Drowning, Only With More Oxygen10.10.12

After the first day of scuba class, I wondered why I had put it off for years. I was so worried that I would fail the swimming test miserably but when it was over, I simply thought, “That’s it?” The only reason I kept putting off scuba lessons is because I was worried about the swim test, turns out the swim test is only staying afloat for 10 minutes and swimming laps with or without snorkels. ANYONE can swim with snorkels on. I know this for a fact because on my last Hawaii trip, one of my friends, who is actively afraid of water and is convinced he is only capable of sinking and may have been a cat in former life, managed to take up snorkeling. It’s that easy. Floating is easy because you are allowed to float on your back or tread water.

The class is 4 in-class sessions with pool sessions, and then 4 open water dives done in two days.

I anticipated that it would be hard for me. I’m not the most coordinated person in the world. I’m an avid hiker because I love the great outdoors, but also because it’s hard for even me to really mess up putting one foot in front of the other. However, you add another step to that, such as needed for mountaineering, and I struggle. Mountaineering requires that you lead with a certain foot first depending on which side of your body is facing downhill and if you are traveling uphill or downhill. It’s really just a couple more steps than putting one foot in front of the other, and I get it wrong, even after climbing a few mountains. Even after climbing for ten hours straight. However, I don’t quit simply because it’s a struggle and it does get easier and I really enjoy being outdoor.

Scuba diving. Wow. My mind is still having a hard time processing the fact that I’m not drowning underwater. Every single pool/dive session, I have at least one panic attack where I’m breathing in oxygen just fine but I’m choking and struggling like I’m actively drowning and it’s scary and I have to self-sooth my way out of it. It’s because there’s an exercise that we do every class that freaks me the hell out. It’s simulating a lost mask or flooded mask underwater.

We are asked to flood our mask with water or remove our mask underwater and replace it. This is because it’s quite easy to get water inside your mask, and it’s a good idea to know how to clear the water without having to resurface from 60-100 feet below each time. The problem with this is that it triggers a drowning reflex in me, quite often I get a bit of water up my nose, and soon as that happens, I gasp for air all I could think about doing is making a swim for the surface. I keep sucking in air and I somehow think that my oxygen tank is empty; it’s only by looking at the tank pressure gauge and then slowing down my quick shallow breaths that I stop “drowning”. It’s a pretty horrible feeling, but when I’m not thinking I’m drowning, I’m having a great time.

Want to know what the absolute worst part about diving class in the great Pacific Northwest is? The diving suit. No, I don’t have a fat complex. It’s not that I think the wet suit makes me look fat or anything, it’s that they are a fight to get into. Diving in Puget Sound means diving in 14mm wetsuit, which, despite being made out of stretchy material, does not have a lot of give because it’s so thick. So after fighting with the suit for half an hour, I’m spent with hardly any energy left for diving.

This may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s not. I’m short, but have very stocky legs, so it’s really hard to find a good fitting suit for me. After struggling to find the right size for me for about half an hour, the dive shop owner gave me a silky body suit to put on, so that we can slide the wetsuit on a little easier. Then he gave me plastic shopping bags to put on my feet, so that it would help thread my big feet through the small wetsuit leg holes. Even after all that, he had to grab me by each side of my wetsuit and hoist me up and try to shake me into it, kind of like what you do you with overstuffed down pillows when stuffing them in smaller pillowcases. Except I’m not made out of pillowy soft feathers and I don’t fall into the suit. So it’s really just an exercise in, “are you sure you don’t have a fat complex NOW?”

I did just get my official PADI “Open Water Diver” card in the mail yesterday. YAY! I plan to get my advance diver certification soon because I’m a glutton for punishment and really the diving part is a lot of fun.

 

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