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Triple A

Asian. Adoptee. Actor.


If you’ve never watched a bunch of kids in singlets and headgear wrestling each other on a mat then let me shed some light:

Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

You know those terrible, slo-mo sequences of the innocently grazing gazelle whose life is suddenly, terribly, in dire peril? It’s like that. Only with children.

Wrestling is an amazing sport. Just watching these kids grappling with each other brings up some mighty primitive emotions. GET AWAY, you scream. GET OUT FROM UNDER. When another being has you in a hold and suddenly your limbs aren’t functioning – that’s when the neurons either fire with adrenaline or begin a shutdown process.

And the emotion. All of it – fear, determination, desperation, anguish, frustration – right on the surface and heated like a layer of coals. There’s no self consciousness here, just id. My brother-in-law tells me he’s never seen so much crying in a sport. It’s true – kids wrestle with tears streaming down their faces, their entire bodies red with effort.

I watched as one kid was accidentally poked in the nose, and it was as if he’d been attacked by a gang of thugs. Then, two minutes later, he pinned another kid and his eyes were cold and concentrated.

The opportunity for analogy knocks incessantly. My nephew lost a match to a girl recently, and I thought well, it’s not the only time that will happen. He’s got a kind of zen sensibility about it, though. Before his match today he said, “I’ll probably lose,” then he grinned. While he wrestles, he’ll turn his lips in and gets a look on his face like Hm, so this is how it will go down. He seems game for the grapple but not crushed if he loses.


Mom and Me

When I was a kid, I thought a lot about my mom.

Not as I knew her – the woman who watched my ballet classes and made a lot of casseroles and got her Masters in Social Work and sewed my winter formal dress – but who she was as a kid. When she was like me.

My mom made a habit of answering my questions honestly, so I asked a lot of them. About her parents, Grandma and Grandpa, and what they were like.

Her parents were well-known and well-respected in their community. My grandpa spent some time in the State Legislature and did community theatre. They owned a local business and my grandma had peaches-and-cream skin. They had four children: aunt, mom, uncle, aunt. If there had been an open call for a poster of The All-American Family, they would have been chosen immediately.

Of course, like every American family, they were dysfunctional. I say this with kindness, because I truly believe no family exists without some amount of dysfunction. People fight and love and hurt each other. Humans are messed up, but that’s often what makes us amazing.

My grandpa really, really wanted a boy. Like a lot of fathers, I imagine he yearned to see himself in another guise. Not unusual. So after their first daughter, my aunt, was born, they did the hoping dance.

And out came my mom.

Denial is an incredible shield. It makes a father give his daughter a boy’s tool set for Christmas, and not out of an enlightened view of her capability as a female. It makes the daughter feel unwanted and unloved for most of her childhood. It makes a mother get up and walk away when that daughter tries to tell her something is wrong.

And decades later, it makes that daughter keep her illness a secret until it’s too late for anyone to do anything.

Of course, there was love. I know my grandparents loved my mom because I saw it. As everyone got older, it became easier, I think. As a kid, I know I witnessed some evolution of forgiveness. I held my breath and watched for it.

But my greatest wish was to somehow be able to go back in time, to when my mom was like me, and be her friend. I would have stuck up for you, I told her. I would have yelled at Grandma and Grandpa. You should have had someone on your side. I would get sweaty and mad just thinking about it. My mom would smile and hug me and check my third grade math homework.

Every parent fucks up. We’re all messy blobs just trying to figure out how to maintain some kind of shape. Before my mom died, I think she came to understand enough of her own mess to forgive that of her parents.

Every once in awhile, growing up, people thought my mom and I were biologically related. The mistake made both of us really happy. Adopting a kid from the other side of the world means risking a sense of displacement, uncertain identity, shaky self-worth. But I was my mom’s daughter, the one she chose, deliberately, to bring into her life. She was always on my side. There was no denying it.

We would have been friends.

We were friends.

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