If you were a Christian, you would cry to God when you learn you're pregnant. Instead, you yell at the doctor, “Whaaaat! I’m here because of infernal headaches. There’s a mistake!” After all, you are stationed in Germany while the man you love is stationed in Korea. You haven’t seen him in. . . let’s see. . . three months. “Ah, ah, ah,” you panic, not because of your age—twenty-two, not because you’re unwed—you have trust, but because you lack all knowledge maternal. That’s what happens when you’re shy a role-model.
The man you love, though, is there—5,500 miles away—dictating your “to do” list.
“What’s next,” you ask.
- Obtain a discharge from the European theatre of operations and proceed directly to the Asian theatre, bypassing the home of record.
“Nothing, I’ll take care of the rest.”
When you finally arrive at the airport in Seoul, he's there to embrace you—all of you. He signals a taxi that will bring you way out to the town of Ui-Jong-Bu. You’ve heard horror stories and hope you’re not in for dirt floors and a thatched roof.
You think light thoughts as he carries you over the threshold.
You adore your first home: the high-gloss parquet floors that house water pipes running underneath, providing for toasty mornings; the diminutive furniture, making you feel like Snow White; the sliding double windows with the wide space in between, acting like a greenhouse; and of course, the piece de résistance—the small stove the man you love bought special—making you the only woman in the neighborhood with an oven.
He shows you the empty room that will be the nursery. This he has left for you.
Over the next three months you get married and learn to bake bread and haggle at the market— all the while spying on the Korean ajumas to see how they do this mothering thing. You stare at babies and toddlers molded to their mother’s backs when wrapped in their blanket carriers. The wrapping appears altogether too intricate, but you don’t want a stroller anymore, either. You opt for a front pack.
Next, you wonder at the toddlers who run naked from the waist down. Someone explains this is part of toilet training. Once the child is ready, diapers are removed—period. It effectively avoids confusion. You tuck that information away.
The crib is your current problem. You can’t find one. What do these Korean babies sleep in? You learn they rest on thick pads covered in jewel-tone solids mixed with pastel prints. An odd combination, but you go with it.
You purchase a vinyl covered cardboard dresser with cartoons stamped on the front—cartoon prints are everywhere. You cut Styrofoam into balloon shapes and cover them in broadcloth. You use combat boot laces for balloon strings, and the man you married attaches your decorations to the wall.
You hand-sew a quilt and curtains.
You wish you were as ready for this baby as the room is.
This baby arrives in alarming short order. For two weeks you nurse and sleep next to her on the pad made warm by the floors. She quickly begins sleeping through the night.
The first time you take her out, the smiles that greet you, melt you.
The first time you take her to the laundromat, American wives surround you and offer to hold your baby while you fold your laundry. The second time you take her to the laundromat, Korean wives surround you but offer to fold your laundry while you hold your baby. This summarizes the cultural differences in attitudes of bonding.
The security Korean children feel will come full circle fifty years later in a ceremonial gathering of friends and family. At the appointed time, the son follows his mother as she takes a lap around the room. As they begin the second lap, they change places, and he lifts his mother to his back, signifying that as she cared for him, now he will care for her.
You will keep these attitudes of infant bonding and of honoring the older generation for the rest of your life.
You, the man you married (and will always love), and your baby flourish in this warm, hospitable atmosphere, where you have become a mother. Several years later when your family accepts Christ, you will look back on the two years you spent in the Land of the Morning Calm and realize what a gift from God it was.
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