When I watched Bourdain come to the realization, in the LA Koreatown episode, that all the Korean Americans he’s met seem to carry around some kind of haunted conscience, in part because of their corporal punishment-filled upbringing, I started to think about my own anxiety and how it has been translated into my now 2 year old God-given vocation of fatherhood. Lots of things make me anxious these days. And I’m not saying it’s because of all that spanking I got in boarding school. I think I made it out clean. No scars, and thank God no PTSD. I’m talking about things like the lack-of-enough-time feeling, an unanswered text, an ill-advised Instagram post, or even an article that needs to be written. No, I don’t think these anxieties come from my childhood. In fact I’m sure they progressed as I gradually became a seasoned adult. Don’t tell the police: I text and drive very regularly, partly because I’m always driving, as per required for my current gig. But it’s mostly because it’s very hard for me to hold off replying the text for more than 10 seconds. The act of reading the message in itself, while still illegal, is a given for me. My first thought is usually to wait. Then I start to worry that I might forget. By the time I’m brainstorming about the ways in which the sender on the other end might take the delay in the wrong way, or be in urgent need of a response, I’m already texting away. Googling while driving is the worst. I literally watch the screen as it loads the results. This compulsion, I think, is rooted in the fear of potentially forgetting an idea that just so happens to pop in my head from time to time. Then there is the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), of course. They say that all adults have some level OCD. I definitely do. I like to tidy up the house before the wife returns from work. My thing is, I don’t want to get too comfortable, watching Parts Unknown when there is a random shirt on the couch, a mug with an over-steeped tea bag on the coffee table, or even the socks still on my feet on a warm day. I swear I often make several trips to the bedroom, putting away one item at a time. Oh I know, this is how I lose track of time and end up heading out the door later than I prefer in the morning. And for that letter in the mail I don’t recognize, I open it right away. Does anyone wait till they get back to the house, probably take that elevator ride to the 4th floor, make a cup of tea, and call their mother before they open it? For me the very thought of checking the mail makes me anxious because you know, there could that bill that I so dread to look at. Don’t even get me started about those phone calls, or God forbid losing my phone all together. Now that would be real anxiety, the kind that would require a diagnosis and treatment. “Do your work first and play later. Do the hardest thing first thing in the morning…,” so goes my mantra for being an efficient adult. I’m sure we all adhere to some version of the “7 habits for highly effective people.” My takeaway is that whoever came up with those personal mission statements if I may call them so, set me on a steady descent down the anxiety-filled path to old age, and then the inevitable end of it all. I apologize for sounding so grim. You can blame it on Bourdain’s findings about the collective Korean psyche. Anyway all kidding aside, sometimes I feel that people who are more spontaneous, people that mix work and play, are less prone to anxiety than the structured, routine driven kind I have turned out into.
My daughter is in her “terrible twos,” as they call that stage. It took me by complete surprise. I had never heard of such a thing before. If you’re like I was; quite put simply, the terrible twos is first stage of naughtiness, which starts when a child turns 2. My daughter basically wants everything, like now, and she doesn’t have the patience to explain to you that her demands are non-negotiable. She’s acquired a skill set that enables her to cut through all the bull sh*t and go straight to the point when you give in to her demands. She launches into this obnoxious cry that drives my anxiety through the roof, and bingo! Oh and she has different gears that she can switch to if she needs to take it up a notch. Most people will say that this behavior is completely normal and is to be expected. That’s why they have a name for it. For the most part, there are things that my daughter does that fall in line with this consensus. When she sets her mind on achieving something, she will generally pursue the challenge of achieving exactly that to the very end. The other day, we were heading out to the store, but she decided she wanted to go swimming just before I was about to seat her in the car. She just kept chanting under her breath, “I wanna go outside,” a phrase that has come to mean either hanging out at the pool, or the playground. However I figured that if I could I get her to settle for running an errand at the store, and probably get some candy in the process, we could both win. No way Jose. She launched into her cry, and stiffened up her body so I couldn’t get her to sit. A couple of minutes later, we were at the pool, and I was trying to convince her to go back to the house to get her bathing suit. Diving into the water in regular clothes was a line I wasn’t about to cross. So I had to stomach her gear 4. An hour later I was trying to explain to her that we couldn’t be in the water any longer because the thunder storms were upon us. “Yup. Sounds about right,” most parents would say after hearing a story like that. So it’s a typical stage of growth in a kid’s life. However, I can’t help but think that some of this behavior is a direct result of my anxiety management parenting style. I have come to believe that repetition is good for kids. I think they learn much faster in a routine, than just winging it. I tend to have my daughter do the same things at the same time on most days, especially during the week when my time with her is limited. And she loves it! She enjoys helping me beat the eggs, cutting open the cheese packet for the Mac and Cheese, and even stirring the piping hot pasta. She enjoys brushing her teeth, too. Sometimes she does it twice in the night. And to cap it off, her nightly reading list is always growing. We started with one book, now we read about 20 a night. Sometimes, I catch myself yelling “Daddy tired Boo-boo!” It’s never too late to nurture good habits, right? Ok, I must admit I give her the iPad to watch videos way before we get to the reading, a lot of videos. What can I say? Sometimes I get too anxious to deal with things, like the water spillage when she so eagerly helps me with the dishes. I mean she learns stuff from the videos too, right? But seriously, she does learn plenty of songs, and expands her vocabulary. I will be the first one to tell you, however, that this activity is more structured than playful, which is not good for kids. You should see the concentration when she’s on that iPad. She won’t even sit down to eat a meal without it, unless it’s at a restaurant, a whole different animal. So when I decide to abruptly take away the iPad, she has a fit! First, her breathing becomes heavy, then she launches into a forced cry, swats stuff off the table, throws herself down on the floor if in a standing position, and cries hard. Sometimes she will even swat the iPad away if you give it back when she’s well deep into her crying. This, I think, is definitely more than just the terrible twos. It’s anxiety, unfortunately brought on by my attempt to structure her time. I have come to learn that while routines are good for kids, it’s better to keep them short and structured around a long stretch of free play
Going back to that Parts Unknown 2nd episode of season 1: Bourdain suggests that Korean American parents don’t seem conflicted about administering corporal punishment. Indeed the segment portrays a whole generation of young adults that got accustomed to different stress positions, the most typical one being, holding one’s hands up while they are sitting, kneeling, or standing for long stretches of time. In fact, Roy Choi, founder of the Kogi food truck enterprise, says that the floor table sitting arrangement that many Korean restaurants have stylized today, is a nod to this stress position. Okay, I know a number of parents will swear by a good serving of spanking, or as known in some pockets of the country, swats. They say it’s the fastest way of teaching kids good manners, and I won’t argue with that. It’s just that I made a personal decision never, ever to punish my kid in that way. It’s just a personal preference. Frankly in this stress riddled world, just cutting down on a kid’s iPad time is sometimes punishment enough. And oh by the way, those stress positions that Roy Choi talks about, were recently banned in Seoul, the capital of South Korea.