A new age of injustice: Chutes and Ladders

I know that Chutes and Ladders has had to make some serious reparations over the years. People (who enjoy counting) figured out that past iterations of the game rewarded the behaviors exhibited by boy characters on the board more than girls. I am sure we could stack a great many other racist, sexist, and ageist allegations against C&L, but for $5 at Tarjay, I was thinking this was just a really solid investment. Plus, if you lose the game pieces, you can just replace them with gummi bears, which does not appear to be the case with, say, Wii Disney Princess Enchanted Castle.

Little Man really took to C&L and we spent a good 30 minutes or so navigating the acts of service and moral falls of our two game pieces: Punk Rock Asian Girl and Toe-Head Crewcuts Boy. I was impressed that Little Man really got the concept of direct consequences for certain actions, because he kept landing on spaces where he was “just thinking” at the end of a chute. There are many ponderous faces on the playing board of C&L — I guess pre-schoolers these days are just emo, yo. We had several good chats about how one did not just land at the movies, one actually has to work to earn a living so she can pay for her movie ticket, and also for that of her son. This did not compel my 4 year-old counterpart to go get a job, so I guess I am still stuck with a high-maintenance movie buddy. Whatevs. It was good bonding time.

Then I really examined the actual crimes and punishments illustrated on the board and I have to say…the government of Chutes and Ladders Land is operating as one really wack meritocracy.

Take for example the longest chute on the board, demoting a game piece a good seven rows for the high crime of reaching for the oft-desired cookie jar.



And yet, the shattered pottery seems to be the worst outcome of precariously perching oneself to get the illicit cookie. It’s not the consequence of possibly breaking a bone or being sneaky instead of asking. We’re taking chutes to our disgrace because the totally replaceable clay pot we bought on clearance Homegoods is in humpty dumpty pieces.


Then there’s the happy-go-lucky lad who rides evil knevil on his two-wheeler, showing off sans helmet. He rides that bike down a measly little one-row chute, and lands with a busted looking eye and only a wheel for a souvenir. Hmm. I’m going to call bologna on the judge here, because if this brazen chap doesn’t have a concussion, he should really be doing some hard time. He could have caused a crash and nothing tears down pride of folly more than a long ride down a long chute.


Then, here’s a juxtaposition of chute and ladder that seems to have turned the scales of justice upside-down. Yay for baking a cake for your birthday. Yay for eating it all by yourself. Yay for child obesity! As long as you’re not spending your idle time reading. Yeegads! Down with literacy. Take that chute on down to where the reader losers go. Only, how can you follow that cake recipe if you can’t read I wonder? Ah, that Justice, no wonder she’s a blind one.


Oh, and finally we’re back with another blondie who also can’t seem to keep a steady step. She’s trying to balance too many plates at once. We once again revisit C&L’s fixation with shattering pottery because blondie rides another long chute to the punitive pit of plateware in pieces. I wish kids would just learn not to unload the dishwasher and not put dishes away, but rather just go eat some cake?


Confessions of a non-Korean mama

I have so many dear friends expecting babies this year. Come October, I’m expecting a veritable traffic jam of storks in the sky.

It’s reminding me of the joy of bringing our own little dumplings home. Our first experience in doing so is forever illuminated for me…

January 2008

As we are leaving the hospital with our dumpling, our pastor and his wife from the Korean church call Loverpants. They say they are on their way over to our house. There is no asking and there is no refusing. I mean, my belly has just been on the butcher block and I am having volcanic eruptions of hot hormone lava and we have a new family member that we just met, but no bigs!

mom goes home
Going home from the hospital

Our pastor and his wife meet us at home. They march through the apartment toward the kitchen where they dutifully stock our refrigerator with noodle dishes and potatoes and bread and seaweed soup P.S. GOOD FOR BREASTMILK. And then pastor offers a prayer in Korean and his wife looks askance at me trying to breastfeed.

The following week, the pastor and his wife are back for a second go-round. This time, with friends! And more seaweed soup. Ahjoomah General’s warning: Contents may make breasts explode with ample milk supply. After several hymns and prayers in Korean, all of which may have been pleas to the Almighty to make our next child an heir, the church elders begin to leave. But not before several of the ahjoomahs (Korean elder women) compress my abdomen, exclaiming “Aygoh!” I believed at one time that Aygoh! meant “Hot dog! She’s still a postnatal fatty!” in Korean.

But after reading a thing or two about samchilil, I know why they are squeezing me. Samchilil, which means 21 days, is the Korean practice of letting a woman who has just given birth to rest. Doesn’t that sound amazing? If mama rests then she will regain strength and be able to take care of those around her. But my impression is that it is a fear-based rest. The postnatal mama is resting to avoid her bones going soft and all of her teeth falling out. True fear. The mother is to stay indoors, drink miyuk-kuk (seaweed soup), avoid cold (even drinking an iced beverage), and sometimes she even wears a girdle. Not kidding, players, an honest-to-goodness girdle. Hence why the ahjoomahs are squeezing the place where a baby used to be. Aygoh!

Exit: Team Ahjoomah, stage left.

daddy time

Irritated and exhausted, I walk to the kitchen to see the spoils of the meals on wheels. I open the refrigerator and there it is: the familiar pots and pans, the kimchee and the burnt rice. The potluck ministry had come to love on me today.

I’m told no matter the denomination, it’s the same scene at any Korean-American church. The potluck is the thing. I’ll never be able to consume the topographic mounds of rice that my church sisters manage to wolf down, but I always enjoy it. Is there really no such thing as a free lunch? Have I paid for my meal ticket through every awkward encounter at K-church? Perhaps. But I’ve never been asked to contribute to the potluck. For the most part, I’ve been a taker. For me, this is God’s grace come to life in a silver pot. We’ve done nothing to deserve it and done everything wrong to be denied it, but He lavishes it on us like a smiling Korean ahjoomah whose delight derives entirely on its acceptance.

a family portrait
ur first time at church as a famiLee

The Korean church loved me through my twenties. The ahjoomahs loved me in a way that I found peculiar, in ways that I never would have chosen to be loved. But there’s no menu at a buffet. Only a bounty of the interesting and colorful, the flavorful, sweet, sour, and spicy.

4 pairs of Converse high-tops

We bought four pairs. You came into the world with four pairs of Converse hightop shoes. Daddy bought unisex colors: two sets of aqua (unisex? debatable) and two sets of black, because we didn’t know if you were a boy or girl. But we were prepared with hightops, sizes 3, 5, 7, 9.


We didn’t know how this would work, you joining us, no other family member for 1000 miles, Mama in grad school, Daddy working 3 jobs. When the nurses handed you to me, I couldn’t tell if it was just the anesthesia making me shiver or if the great and profound weight of this new life in my care was making me quake. I was holding 8 lb. 1 oz. of beautiful you but the pull of gravity at that moment was much greater. Like a Mac truck had backed into my hospital bed and dropped a heap-ton of work and sleeplessness into my lap. Somehow–and I can’t explain it because I think you have to experience it firsthand–a feeling washed over me that you were the only one thing in my life that I couldn’t get out of, and yet we were going to be ok, you and I and Daddy, and that we were going to be so, so happy together.

I mean, for starters, at least we had shoes.


The first time I saw your Daddy walking up the hill of Schultz lawn, he was wearing Converse. They were red Chucks, the only appropriate choice for the man who captured my young heart.

Whenever we would go to visit your grandparents in Ann Arbor, we would visit Sam’s to buy ourselves a new pair of Cons.


It’s terribly naive to think that we should make this bulk investment in Converse for a girl who would not walk for another 13 months, but I suppose the shoes symbolize our naivete and our induction of you into our Converse club.




You put the last pair on today, the bookends on this shoe collection, and you complained that they were pinching your toes. It felt unfair, that you had outgrown these shoes that had once seemed so impossibly big without our even noticing it.

This, too, is a symbol of the invisible ache that your own growth causes the people who love you most in this world, and also of the wonderful shoes you have yet to fill that you do not yet own, in sizes we cannot yet fathom.