Five-month update: More mobility and QT with the BFF

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Selfie at Gyeongbokgung Palace 

Highlights of Sophia’s development in her fifth month:

Sophia continued her cognitive and physical developments this month with incredible energy (ironically) as Michal and I were bleary-eyed (yet excited) due to either of us being ill and/or managing an unpredictable sleep schedule.

  • She has gone from hating being on her tummy in her fourth month to loving it in her fifth month, constantly rolling like a bottle downhill. However, she struggles with wanting to crawl as she gets on all-fours but isn’t sure how to move next.
  • She holds and grabs with more intention, especially with her pacifier and bottle.
  • She is more aware of the details in the world around her, recently growing obsessed with the tags on toys or clothes.
  • She is starting to have regular giggle fits when we tickle her tummy or toes.
  • She has shown interest in eating some solids like mashed up banana.

Having Esther, one of my best friends who I have known since high school, visit me for an extended period of time during this fifth month was such a blessing. Sophia is still not sleeping well, waking three to four times through the night with inconsistent nap times during the day. It didn’t help that we suffered from jet lag for a while after returning from the States, plus everyone in our home had some form of illness at different points throughout the past month.

Highlights of sightseeing in Seoul with Esther in October

I am so grateful Esther was willing to become a third parent to Sophia while in Seoul. She endured the 14-hour flight from Detroit to Seoul and helped me get Sophia to sleep in her bassinet, went to the hospital with me while Michal was at work and Sophia had a fever, got up early each morning to play with Sophia while I showered and ate breakfast each day, taught a mommy and baby yoga class for Sophia and our friends, and even baby sat for us while Michal and I had a date night. This was a level of loyalty and generosity I could never repay.

Michal, Sophia and I had a lot of fun exploring the city with her, and we had a whole new perspective as Esther’s knowledge of Korean really enlightened us. For example, one day two older women on the subway spoke to Esther in Korean about Sophia. I assumed they were probably chastising me that she was too cold or too small, as I had heard others tell me in the past.

In contrast, the women were gushing over Sophia’s eyes – at how they twinkle and at how looking at her made them feel happy and young, and that they wished Sophia a lifetime of joy.

Esther even added that this was a rough translation and that their sentiments sounded even more beautiful and meaningful in Korean.

All in all, we packed a lot of activity into our days and nights, being tourists in our own town and discovering so much more beyond our fav spots. Our time together generally consisted of:

On the other hand, we were also were able to just relax in our home when one or more of us in the household was sick, tired – or both. The three-week visit reminded me of the two years Esther and I had as roommates back in undergrad, complete with binge watching TV shows (now hooked on “Breaking Bad”), ordering tons of delivery and pulling those dreaded “all-nighters.”

Pressing the pause button on the present

During some downtime on her visit, we listened to a podcast of a homily from the Church of the Incarnation in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Michal and I used to attend before moving to Seoul while he was in business school. The pastor addressed the age-old dilemma of the need to focus on being content with the present, rather than dwell on the past or constantly yearn for more. He wisely said:

“God is here in this moment, with all its light and darkness, with all its pain and joy […] Scripture says there is an appointed time for everything […] Living in faith can be as small as living in the now.”

Esther related to this concept with her yoga practice: the act of concentrating on her breath, clearing her mind and setting an intention at the beginning of a session.

We all saw how Sophia’s current life easily adapts to this mentality, one that is so difficult for us as a adults. Having a child at infant stage is a consistent reminder of this life lesson. Babies are not thinking about the past or the future, but about the present and expressing their immediate desires: I am hungry now. I am sleepy now. I want to play now. Their constant movement and growth keeps us from lingering too much.

I’m excited to see her grow up but also cherishing her innocence and simplicity in her life at this moment. I wish to only “live in the now” just like sweet Sophia.

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On the plane from Detroit to Seoul with Auntie Esther right before take-off
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Our first family home leave trip:

Living in the “in-between”

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So much history in one spot: The place where we met (2006), got engaged (2010) and got married (2011).

 

After returning from my first home leave trip since moving abroad, I’ve felt like I’m living in some “in-between” space, as I’m not sure what to call “home” anymore. For some time, especially after having my daughter, I thought I was “homesick.” But my feelings seem to be more about being “timesick” as I’ve realized how I haven’t so much missed a specific place but a specific time in my life when certain groups of people were in it.

Mixing past with the present at MSU

While home in Michigan, I met up with a former student I taught in journalism classes when she was a junior and senior in high school in the Chicago suburbs. She is now a senior at my undergrad alma mater, Michigan State.

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Cannot believe my former student is an official adult!

The meet-up was like an Inception of flashbacks mirroring several points in my life: the time I was a teacher/newspaper adviser at my first job after undergrad, the time when I turned 21 years old and could drink legally as we met at the legendary Peanut Barrel bar and restaurant in East Lansing, the time I similarly reunited with my former high school newspaper adviser at Michigan State (as she was alumna too) during a tailgate and she brought her infant daughter (as I did during my meet-up with my former student).

So many versions of myself overlapped into this one moment. I felt proud for my former student to have seen her grow up into a mature and ambitious woman especially in contrast to how immature and uncertain I was in my identity and career path when I had met up with my former high school teacher at her age.

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On the Red Cedar River: Esther and I have known each other for more than 15 years since we were on our high school newspaper together. We were college roommates, as well as co-workers at our newspaper at MSU.

While visiting MSU, Michal and I (along with Esther, my best friend from high school/college) toured around campus with Sophia in her stroller, going back to spots like our first date location at the Union and where we met/got engaged/got married at St. John Student Parish. This October, it will have been a decade since the day Michal and I started our relationship, so to return to these spots with a child and seeing current college kids around our age was surreal. How did we get so old? Ten years ago, I would have never imagined having the life that we have now!

Sophia steals the show with family and friends

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So grateful my friend Clare of more than 15 years organized a BBQ for our group of friends from high school. The next generation of our group is growing!

During our home leave, we had significant events lined up like Sophia’s baptism, a family friend’s wedding and Michal’s best friend’s wedding. Not to mention, our friends from college and high school held events like dinner parties and BBQs in honor of our short homecoming. Through all of these fun times, we saw everyone we loved from our circle in Michigan and introduced them to our sweet Sophia.

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Michal’s old college roommate, Danny, and his wife Nancy hosted a dinner party for our circle of friends from undergrad. My cousin April surprised me with a birthday cake. (Sophia was already asleep in her car seat/stroller at this point.) 

It is such a blessing to see grandparents with their grandchild. My mother especially seems to live for Sophia. Sophia’s godparents are our best friends who attended MSU and SJSP with us, my cousin April and her husband Jake, and they relished every opportunity to spend with her. Both Michal and I have strong networks of family friends in our respective ethnic communities within the Detroit area. Both of us have kept in touch with friends in metro Detroit, especially our mutual friends from church and college. With all these ties to Michigan, we have begun considering what it would be like to return to the area, after the decade we have been away.

Former and/or future home?

For a time, I didn’t think of a more long-term homecoming as a possibility. I’ve enjoyed living in and exploring new cities after college and wasn’t too keen on reliving my past. Metro Detroit and Detroit proper had changed in a lot of ways through my lifetime . I grew up in the heyday of Troy, Mich. when it used to be the headquarters of Kmart and when Detroit was proudly reaping the benefits of being Motor City. After high school, an era began when businesses lay vacant and countless homes were going unsold. In fact, my childhood home will soon be entering the market.

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Our family and friends on the Filipino side at Sophia’s baptism.

To see it empty – my former home of more than 25 years, a place that symbolized the American dream for my family as my parents immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines and moved from a Detroit apartment to the suburbs, conjured up feelings of the past – of possibility. When we first moved into this home, I remember dancing around the living room thinking how there was so much space to play. But like any home, there are feelings of heartache paired with those happy memories. As a 31-year-old adult who celebrated her recent birthday in this home, I am looking forward to my parents selling the house in order to let go of what has become a burden to maintain in their age, and I am glad I got to see it one more time to have some closure.

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Our family and friends on the Polish side at Sophia’s baptism.

One year ago when we moved to Seoul to begin our expat adventures, I wrote a bit about the concept of home based on the adage “Home is where the heart is.” Yet, another saying that comes to mind with this blog post is “You can ‘t go home again” because past times can never be as fulfilling as they initially were. In my recent visit to my former home after much time living in other parts of the U.S. and the world, I have discovered what you can do instead:

You can create a new home again in the same place that once was.

I have seen this happen in the continual resurgence of Detroit as it seems more and more revitalized with hip restaurants, bars, breweries and other business each time we visit. I have seen this in the hope and joy within grandparents’ eyes has they play with their grandchild for the first time. I have seen this in friendships that have not only stood the test of time but have actually thrived through distance and difference in lifestyles.

Michal and I aren’t sure what’s next for us, but we are trusting in God’s promise and plan, whether it will be the place where we came from or some place farther away.