Monterey Park, California, USA, is the heart of the Chinese/Taiwanese/Cantonese American diaspora in Southern California. I know it because my parents know it. Because they have friends there, or friends of friends there, because first generation immigrants either settled or found community there. As The Washington Post put it:
“Here between the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains and downtown Los Angeles is a place that decades ago made history, becoming the nation’s first Asian-majority city after years of determined emigration from Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China.
Now its history includes a grimmer development, one it shares with an increasing collection of American cities and suburbs.”
On Sunday we were planning to go there — my younger daughters were performing in their Mandarin language choir, as part of day two of the biggest Lunar New Year festival in the area. It was the first time Monterey Park was putting on the festival in three years, given all the COVID-related closures.
That “Monterey Park” and “massacre” are now in the same sentence, and that 20 people were shot at a ballroom dance studio where boomers were enjoying movement and community on Lunar New Year’s Eve, is absolutely gutting. It was the 33rd mass shooting in America in 2023.
The LA Times covered how we talked to our kids about it and snatched a little meaning and togetherness in a time of sorrow, as the moms who also had kids performing decided to come together and grieve together on Sunday with a play date and lunch at the park. It felt bonding, having to hold this difficult tragedy and our fears and grief about it, alongside the more mundane daily rituals of care. Today I appeared on a panel for MSNBC about what happened, with a gun control activist mom who discussed what to do now.
My youngest daughter, the five-year-old Luna, was the most sanguine about the cancelation of the festival, reminding the rest of us, “Don’t worry, there are LOTS of Lunar New Year performances, we’ll perform again!”
The lead parent of our children is off in America so I have been really getting my momming on over the past few days. (Y’all know how that usually goes for me. VERY laissez faire.) Being in charge of my two children and a baby while also working from home was already going to be daunting in it of itself, but the despot Kim Jong Un decided to throw in an extra challenge! He invited President Trump to meet face-to-face, and Trump accepted, in an announcement that came down at 9am yesterday morning. A bona fide news bomb.
This is what I remember: I thankfully awakened slowly rather than suddenly because somehow there were no screaming fits or random sibling throw-downs to break up at the break of dawn. Since November 2016 I have avoided news inputs until I am fully awake and ready to take in whatever inevitably shocking alert is on my phone. Yesterday was distinct in that news hadn’t actually broken at 7:30am when I woke up. News ABOUT news was filling my inbox because POTUS DJT had popped his head in the White House Briefing Room (a room he’s never been seen in) and said there was a “major announcement” coming in 90 minutes. The countdown began.
Our helper Yani served breakfast and braided hair. I made sure the girls got on their buses. Baby Luna slept through all the way until 8:30am when both older girls were off for school. I hate having to feed her and read at the same time a furious feed-and-read situation followed in order to finish both in time for the announcement. By then, we knew that the news had to do with North Korea, and that the South Korean envoys who had just met with KJU on Monday went to Washington an invitation from Kim to Trump, to meet. This would be unprecedented and incredible on many, many levels. The craziest thing was that, at the 9am/7pm EST announcement, we learned Trump just accepted this invite immediately! It breaks with decades of U.S. practice but this is Trump and really, are there norms anymore?
From a windowless, carpeted room that serves as a perfect home “studio,” got on live with our program All Things Considered right after the announcement, at 9:30am Korea time. But my kindergartner Eva’s monthly school assembly was at 10am! I am her only parent in the country right now. She expected me to be there and I didn’t want to disappoint her, so I rushed to her school by cab, stayed through to her performance (last because they’re the oldest) and then made sure she saw that I was there and had to go, then ran to hail another cab to take me home, making it with four minutes to spare before my next live conversation with All Things Considered, at 11am. That could have really gone the other way for me so, thank you God.
Later I delivered a stroller to a friend who needed to borrow it, ate lunch on base with some USGOV guys who joked around about this rather stunning news with me (I’m leaving the jokes out of this blog post), and because I don’t like to cancel appointments at the last minute, I took a cab all the way to my pedicure place only to realize that because I jumped into the cab while conducting a phone interview*, I forgot to bring any forms of payment! We had to turn around and return to my home, get my wallet, drive back to pedicure place only for me to realize, by then, that I didn’t have time for the appointment because there were many more live conversations to have and the web post to write-through. At some point I needed to sit down and speed read and correspond with more people, which is what those of us in the biz call “reporting.” In the evening when the girls had to be bathed and put down for bed, I was on Morning Edition twice. In between the two hits, Eva, who is starting to read, read to me (this felt interminable because I was on deadline) and we completed the True/False questions in the back because she loves True/False. Then I recall putting a Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood on for them in lieu of any more books.
I got the girls tucked in and put down for bed and then got my ass to a friend’s Pyeongchang Paralympics Opening Ceremony Watch Party, because YES THAT WAS YESTERDAY, too.
Here are the conversations, as they appeared in the course of this string of events:
All Things Considered after the feed-and-read with Luna (no link because it was replaced with the next one) All Things Considered in the nick-of-time after making it back from Eva’s assembly Morning Edition/Up First podcast after my failed pedicure attempt but got a giant cookie for Isa (she loves cookies) Morning Edition after the True/False questions All Things Considered after being awakened this morning with a 6:30am call to talk again. My voice is noticeably lower here because I’d just woken up. Sorry.
Not included in this post: All the stress eating and Starbucks green iced teas. By the end of the day there were just plastic Starbucks drink vessels strewn all over my desk.
*It was John, a friend/source of mine who is a China historian and North Korea watcher based here in Seoul. We spend half of our phone calls just mercilessly making fun of each other. A running gag is we our phone conversations by performing the phone greetings in Chinese, Korean and Japanese obnoxiously: (Roboseyo? Roboseyo! // Wei? Wei? // Moshi Moshi!? Moshi Mosh.)
Luna is crawling around, so we have to really watch out for small items on the floor that she might try and grab and sneak into her mouth. Today after a quick breastfeed for her afternoon snack, Luna went about her normal business of crawling around the floor under the supervision of our helper Yani. All of a sudden her laugh turned into a panicked throat-clearing/hacking noise. I looked over at her and she looked like she’d just seen a ghost and her eyes said “SOMEONE HELP ME.”
Yani looked similarly panicked so I called upon that crazy time I spent in the English countryside last fall and just smacked her really hard in the back of her chest (harder than I thought I would need to, as my former Royal Marine instructed) and she instantly puked up the contents of her tiny tummy. I searched the beige puddle of puke (this is the kind of thing that does not phase you once you’ve been a mom to numerous dogs, cats and/or humans), and found a small square of Scotch tape that she must have eaten and accidentally gotten lodged in her throat.
Crisis averted, Luna instantly returned to smiling and laughing. So uh, THANKS, my British hazardous environment training instructors! Really glad I wasn’t called upon to deal with a “sucking chest wound” though, which I vaguely remember learning something about in the same course but really not enough to do anything about should someone have one.
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.
I was feeling quite weepy about it and started bringing it up all the time (as I do when I obsess on a certain topic. Current obsession: nuclear annihilation). Here’s the key graf and art:
“Being in their mid-60s, let’s continue to be super optimistic and say I’m one of the incredibly lucky people to have both parents alive into my 60s. That would give us about 30 more years of coexistence. If the ten days a year thing holds, that’s 300 days left to hang with mom and dad. Less time than I spent with them in any one of my 18 childhood years.
When you look at that reality, you realize that despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life. If I lay out the total days I’ll ever spend with each of my parents—assuming I’m as lucky as can be—this becomes starkly clear …
It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re in the tail end.”
I was melancholy about this back then because I am one of those adults who doesn’t feel like she has grown up and therefore is over-reliant on my parents. I talk to them several times a week but even more so when I am cranky or have a cold or am homesick or really, any slew of reasons. I am terrified about losing them and brought up the above visualization with Chris. His response?
This is “problematic,” because it implies every unit of time you spend with a loved one has equal weight, when it’s not true. Frankly, you might be having a lot more meaningful moments with your parents now that you are older and more appreciative of them. So even though the BULK of your time (in quantity) with them is already spent, there’s still plenty of time for quality time, which is suffused with more meaning. Chris and I revisited this topic this week in a chat:
Christopher: My current thinking on that would be that it’s also about perspective. I think I have much more productive and fulfilling interactions with my parents now than I did a few years ago. And I just refuse to go through life with angst about what I am missing or running out of. Better to be intentional about spending it with quality people doing things you love.
Me: Do you think being cognizant of the limited nature of time helps you with that intentionality though?
Christopher: Absolutely. I wonder what i would do if i was immortal and knew it.
Me: I wonder what the default age we all THINK we are living until. I would say, probably our expectation is we will live past retirement.
Me: And we operate in that mode.
Christopher: We might not though.
Me: I’m constantly feeling like I don’t make enough use of my days though. Like, I am pretty lazy. Also, what is ‘quality’ time with ones parents? I don’t get into deep philosophical conversations with my dad, for instance. But i still consider us close.
Christopher: I think that’s a good question. I feel it is about self definition. I also think your family is what you want it to be. Many people have tough issues with biological family. i don’t see any obligation people have to that unless they choose that.
Me: You mentioned you’ve been spending more quality time with your parents lately than before. What does that mean to you?
Christopher: What I mean is that I think we are both more aware of why we enjoy spending time with each other, and when we spend time with each other, it brings us more joy because we understand each other better than we used to. And I’m an adult, where as 10 years ago i was still figuring out what I was about.
Me: Anyway I felt much better last Christmas when you rebutted that post. But I also feel unsure about ‘quality time’ and what that means
Christopher: You have to define that for yourself, I think. I’m not sure I know either. If I sit around and watch a movie with my parents, does that count?
Me: Not sure! I think we know AFTER. Like, I remember our time at the bar talking about this [very topic], and our relationships and other things, as being meaningful. (Me and you, not me and my parents.)
Me: So that’s an example of knowing in retrospect that time together had meaning to us.
Christopher:But you didn’t set out to ‘have an interaction with meaning’ at the time. You just set out to have drinks.
Me: Hahaha. Do you want me to do my google invites like that going forward?
Me: “Invite: Interaction with meaning time with Elise,” Yes/No/Maybe/Propose New Time
“We often get caught up in platforms rather than the most important tool for success, which is not a technological platform at all: it’s intellectual curiosity. It’s that persistent tug to want to know more, to ask questions, to seek answers. The best reporting comes from the best questions, and no matter what the platform, great journalists are asking them.”
–my chat with Gigaverse about finding good work, my favorite platform on which to report and balancing parenthood and journalism