Therese Park

A crawdad bridge between generations

Grandmothering today’s American kids is not a small task, but when the grandma was made in Korea in an earlier century, the task is doubly difficult.
The generation gap is one thing, but when the cultural gap between the grandma and the kids is as wide as the Pacific Ocean, one has to look at both sides with a fair mind.
My grandmothering techniques and insights came from my own grandmother, who lived with our family a few months a year. As a Confucian scholar’s daughter, she ruled us with her quiet certitude, besides being a loyal mediator between our dictator parents and us the “oppressed.”
In her gentle-yet-firm manner, she always pictured our parents as ideal adults with sublime intentions for their offspring, often using the ancient proverb, “Saplings need good hands to be pruned and trimmed.” But when we got out of her hands, she would say, “A stubborn young donkey grows horns on its butt.” None of us wanted to see horns coming out of the wrong ends, so we behaved.
More than six decades later, I find myself clueless sometimes on how to be a grandma to my carefree American-born grandkids — two boys and two girls — whose fathers are American. I sometimes wish I could lecture them on the proper demeanor of the young before elders or use the proverbs I grew up with, but how could I? I only see them when their parents are present.
This is the reason my husband and I take a short vacation with them each year, without their parents, in a cabin in northern Ohio amid thick pines, to reform them under the Confucian codes. But they don’t let me. In fact, they try to reform me into an American grandma, by correcting my accented English and lecturing, too.
“Grandma, you called ‘kayak’ kayaky,” Oliver, 8, said and laughed.
“It’s not ‘forgettable,’ Grandma,” Emma, 10, said. “It’s ‘forgetful!”
Alex, 14, who, as a young boy, used to correct practically everything I said, doesn’t do it anymore; he only gives me a certain look, which tells me, “Come on, Grandma! You can do better than that!”
For this year’s three-day vacation, I showed up with a bicycle helmet, besides boxes of food, goodies and toys. The previous time, a sneaker flew in my direction while I tried to settle an argument between two sisters. Luckily, it didn’t hit me. Who was the thrower of the shoe? I’d rather not say in an attempt to protect her reputation. What’s important here is the fact that I wasn’t going to let anything land on my head. The thrower thought my precaution silly. She said, “You worry too much, Grandma. Seriously!”
Maybe I worry too much. Nothing flew in my direction this time. God bless America!
Whether this grandma can speak proper English or not, one thing my American grandkids mutually agreed among themselves was the solemn fact that their Korean grandma can catch crawdads as well as they or even better. The shallow end of the Grand River in the Hidden Valley Park near our cabin was heavily congregated with crawdads in all sizes. We spent a whole afternoon at the stream with a single goal — to catch. According to Oliver, who knows much about living creatures on this planet, crawdads could move forward or backward, very quickly. With this in mind, I mastered my catching skill in no time, and by the end of the day I claimed one third of more than 40 critters in our bucket as my prisoners.
American kids are humanitarians. Korean kids would have taken their catch home to show off, but my grandkids kindly released them back to the river, saying, “Goodbye, guys. We’ll be back!”
Good times always fly too fast, true? Before we parted, Sarah, 7, said to my husband and me, “You’re the only grandparents I know who can put up with wild kids. None of my friends’ grandparents do any fun things with them, like you do with us.” Knowing Sarah, who loves to argue with me and challenge my Korean Grandmotherly authority, I took her words as a compliment.
No matter what I say to them, they’ll always be Americans, and no matter how many times they correct me, this grandma will never speak perfect English as long as she lives. But I know they will remember how courageously their Korean grandma caught crawdads in that stream on one July afternoon this year.

The Kansas City Star
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