I am a ball of anxiety as 2018 gets underway. We are headed into the Year of the Dog, which is my zodiac year. Chinese superstition governs that you have to be very careful during your “本命年” because you’re more likely to have bad luck or accidents. You’re supposed to avoid negative people and life transitions like getting married or starting a business during the year.
There are countermeasures, like a lot of wearing-of-red. I think.
The last time this came up, when I was 24, was actually awesome! It was the year I miraculously got a dream job to cover the state capitol in Texas, which let me move out of South Carolina and reunite with my surly long-distance boyfriend. It also led to friendships that have endured and some of the most fun, most memorable reporting years of my life. TBH I wouldn’t be here, posting this from my sweetass employer-provided high-rise overlooking Seoul but for that key life change during my zodiac year.
But this time around I happen to be scheduled for unemployment by summer, because my contract will end. Where will I live? What will I do for a living? There are many factors that make a gal feel … unsettled.
To mark Valentine’s Day, I dug into my Evernote (where I obsessively save links of interest) and found all the reads I’d tagged with “love.” For this Mother’s Day, I dove back in and cobbled together memorable links on motherhood, a topic that teaches, inspires and challenges me every moment. While I never grew up imagining my wedding/getting married, I always knew instinctively I’d be a mom.
As I write this, I’m surrounded by the singing, stomp-running and occasional screaming of three girls under the age of five, all who call me momma. My love for them is the deepest deep, and becoming a mom made me love my own mother — and need her — even more than I always had. When I was nursing eldest daughter Eva that first week of her life, my mom would stand over me with a bowl of soup and actually feed me as I was feeding my own baby, since my hands weren’t free. To my mom, my 30 year-old body was still her responsibility to nourish, just as I was doing for Eva. I recall so vividly a magical symmetry in the three of us together in those early days of Eva’s life.
Not all of us have kids, but we all have moms, so these links are for everyone.
Today is what my friend Anna calls “The Day After The Day Of The Shining Star,” because my birthday follows former North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il’s. (Kim’s birthday is the “Day of the Shining Star,” so I get “The Day After,” naturally. Along with Michael Jordan, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Paris Hilton and my birthday besties John and April.)
I can’t believe I’ve never written about my family’s birthday tradition! I guess now’s a good time. The tradition is the egg roll, or an egg rolling, to be precise. Not the fried appetizer, but an actual rolling of a hard-boiled egg down the birthday girl’s body, from head to toe and down each limb, to roll away any negativity or bad vibes from the year before. Then you crack open the egg and eat it for birthday breakfast.
Here’s my mom doing it for me in Taipei a couple years ago. While rolling the egg, the elder talks the whole time, wishing away all the sadness or badness. I always get emotional when I happen to be with my mom and she can actually roll the egg for me like when I was little.
In my adulthood, sometimes I’m not with mom or dad or grandma on my birthday, and so my husband has to roll the egg for me, which causes him great anxiety. On my 28th birthday, his egg-rolling-anxiety caused a GIANT FIGHT between us that lasted for two or three days.
There is a lot of superstition tied to egg rolling, too. On my 19th birthday, everyone forgot to roll my egg for me. It was then one of the worst years of my life, to this day. Before my 32nd birthday, I happened to be in Taipei a few weeks ahead of Feb 17 so my mom planned to roll my egg for me before I headed to the airport. But the eggs didn’t boil in time, so we had to go downstairs to the 7-11 and improvise with a tea-egg (the shells of which are already cracked, since they’re braising in tea). Mom rolled me with the tea egg, but tea eggs don’t work! I went home and had a miscarriage and my au pair quit in some high drama involving her OK Cupid boyfriend and it was just Not. A. Great. Start. To. My. Year. So my dad came to DC and re-rolled my egg, and instantly things turned a corner.
That is the power of the egg roll.
If I’m REALLY lucky, I happen to be with my 94-year old grandma around my birthday, and SHE can do the egg roll, which is the luckiest egg roll of all. But her primary egg roll responsibilities are her own kids: Aunt Linda, Uncle Steve and my momma.
This year Matty had my egg ready for rolling first thing in the morning, and my daughter Eva was so psyched to see this weird thing happening that she insisted on being lifted up so she, too, could help roll the egg. Later my Seoul girlfriends joined me for a day at the spa, since I’m a little limited in my partying this year due to being eight-months preggo. Buy my sweet friend Sarah flew her ass in from Singapore to spend the day and weekend with me, which means a whole lot. I missed our times together and we’re doing some quality catching-up.
NOTE: I have no idea where this tradition comes from. It’s just been passed down my mom’s side of the family. I have yet to start doing it for my daughters, but I think I will this fall when Eva turns five.
The Ai WeiWei exhibit continues here in Washington through next month, so if you are going to be in town in the coming weeks, I really encourage you to see it. My artist-turned-diplomat Mom and I went over the holidays and we both found it riveting. The two of us have been going to art museums together since I could walk, and we really zip through when exhibits are boring. But at the Hirshhorn, we found ourselves lingering over each piece, studying Ai’s work from various perspectives, coming back around again, getting inspired by his agency and taking photos to remember what we saw.
Obviously a lot of the Taiwanese news animations are totally full of made-up and sometimes bombastic details. This traditionally makes for poor journalism. But just as photo illustrations go, you can communicate a truth even though the mashup is fake, right? Or is that outside the realm of journalism? I think it’s an interesting question as we continue trying to do “something new,” toy with non-traditional story forms, etc. Given what we saw of his art, it seems Ai WeiWei’s answer to his own question is yes.
This Mother’s Day I am feeling especially grateful for my mama, who’s been as amazing as usual as I confront becoming a mom myself. Granted, I’m probably TOO attached to my mom; we travel together a few times a year, talk every morning and I seek her out for everything from cooking lessons via Skype to answers to thorny life questions when I need wisdom/understanding. (When I told her about my ambivalence after learning I was preggo, her response was, “Well, if the baby comes out cute you could probably sell it on the black market for at least 40 grand.”)
This is all to say that I’ve never under-appreciated the connection between moms and their children. So in preparation for this fall’s arrival of Baby Hu-Stiles, I sought out advice and product recommendations from some of my favorite-girlfriends-who-are-also-moms. I’m overwhelmed that these brilliant, beautiful women — one who I’ve known since 5th grade — took the time to share these personal insights with me, and with you. Happy Mother’s Day.