Thursday, December 2: My 19-year-old son, Alex, flies into Incheon Airport on Thursday, December 2, for the first solo intercontinental trip of his lifetime. Though he traveled abroad in his “youth” to France, Germany and the Bahamas, he did so under the protective watch of his father and me and was probably too young to remember much of those trips. I got it in my head that a trip to Korea would be an eye-opening experience, a voyage of emotional and intellectual growth, a way to jolt him out of his comfort zone. After much haggling and discussion with his father, we agreed he could come to visit for much of the month of December.
Alex is my middle child, but my first son in my second marriage to Mike. Alex and my youngest son, Adam, who is 18, live with their dad in northern Virginia. My daughter Sarah from my first marriage is 26 and lives on her own. Though Alex graduated from high school in June of 2009, he has spent the last year and a half struggling to decide what to do with his life. He attended Northern Virginia Community College for one semester, picking his classes not because of his own interests but because a close friend signed up for them, Japanese for one. He hasn’t been able to find a job, which both his dad and I are pressuring him to do. I’m not sure if his inability to land a job is because of a bad job market or not really trying hard enough. Alex’s greatest dream is to be a musician. He loves heavy metal.
As a mother, my dream for him is that he be a success, that he find happiness. It’s also more complicated. I don’t want him to be like me. I have always been good at many things but never great at any one thing. This is a good thing in many ways, but a problem in others. If you have a strong talent or ability in one area, it’s easy to find your direction. For example, my sister has always been very artistic, and so her career path led her in a straightforward way to be a freelance artist and eventually art director at Shape and then Fit Pregnancy Magazine. She’s very successful. My youngest son Adam not only has great abilities in math and science, but he also loves those subjects; he will probably be an engineer or a scientist of some kind. Most of my life, with my multitude of half-ass talents, I’ve floundered about, trying this and that and never really finding my niche. I’ve been an English teacher, a newspaper reporter, a banker, a stockbroker, a banker again. I’ve gotten a Master’s degree in International Commerce & Policy and did two internships at the State Department and one at MSI. In the midst of all this I was a mother and a housewife for 15 years. Now, I’m teaching English in Korea. It’s not really a career path, it’s a career meander, boomeranging eventually back to where it started from. Who wants to take a gamble on someone with this kind of resume?
I don’t want Alex to squander his life. I don’t want him to repeat my mistakes, my indecisiveness. So. It floors me when one of the first nights we share beers together in Daegu, he tells me he thinks he and I are very much alike. Though it’s nice he thinks that way, I cringe inside. Because I don’t want him to be like me. I want him to be clear in his direction; I want him to find a passion and stick to it. I want him to be a success, to make decent money, to find a girl he loves. But mostly I want him to be happy and self-sufficient, self-confident and assertive. I want more than anything for him to be the opposite of me.
Alex ventures to Korealand
This trip to Korea germinates, blooms and becomes reality. There are some moments of extreme anxiety on my part when, the day after he buys his ticket to come here, North Korea attacks an island in South Korea. The hullaballoo thankfully dies down and Alex arrives at Incheon in his brown plaid shirt, scraggly half-bearded face, and curly unkempt hair stuffed under a knit cap. It’s been nearly 10 months since I’ve seen him and at 6 feet tall, he dwarfs me when I hug him. We take the four-hour bus directly from Incheon to Dongdaegu; he’s not one bit happy to have to take a four-hour bus trip after 20 hours of flying, during which he didn’t sleep one wink. I get him settled into my little Korean “room” (not quite an apartment). The next morning I go to work and leave him to sleep the day away.
His first Friday night I take him to my neighborhood Dasarang for chicken and beer. He’s not old enough to drink legally in the U.S., but here it doesn’t seem to matter. I don’t even know what the drinking age is, but no one asks him his age or questions him in any way. I’m fine with drinking a few beers with him.
We have a lot of great conversations, opening up freely under the effects of the alcohol… 🙂 He tells me he is still in love with his old girlfriend Sarah. He can only think about her, wants to marry her, even dreams about her. He is a sweet boyfriend; I’ve seen him before with both of his long-time girlfriends, Lindsey and Sarah. Even if he is lost career- or direction-wise, I know I have raised him to treat his girlfriends well. He is a boy with a sweet and sensitive heart.