Archive for the ‘Letters to Madelyne’ Category

Dear Aunt Steph,

Merry Birthday and Merry Christmas! We’re writing you from Kentucky, and I have a Disney ball, Disney Barbies and a Hello Kitty CD player from Santa! He brought them all the way down here! And I have a giant pencil, but it’s not from Santa. It’s from a truck stop.

How are you, Aunt Steph? Love you…miss you…too much to say it. You are my most favorite auntie in the whole wide world. The world is like a planet. And I’m going to learn about space at my school. The very next month. My room has been changed around at home. I got a “Moon in My Room” for Christmas — and some glow-in-the-dark stars to go with it. And my most favorite thing of all is a boogie board. I hope you can come home to the beach and we can use it together!

Do you miss the ocean? Cause I miss you. Do you remember things about Gloucester, Massachusetts? Cause I hope some day I can come visit you. I can bring you things from Gloucester if I get to come visit you, like pine cones from the woods, and twigs and we can make a fairy house. I can bring you seashells from the beach and little treasure toys. A long time ago I found some armies. I spotted them with my eyes. Do you have any kind of shells in Korea at the beach? Maybe they’re a different kind, like sand dollars…or beach glass…. Or I can bring you giant pine cones from Kentucky, and magnolia branches for you.

Love you, miss you. And I hope you have a wonderful birthday if I don’t get to go there.

xoxoxo MADeLYNe


“A tall mountain and me & you on top with a blue sun in a blue sky. And something about Gloucester: ocean waves, the tallest waves up to our teensy toes.”

Dear Madelyne,

Thank you so much for the lovely card and beautiful drawing. I can’t believe you can sign your name! What happened? You were four when I left. Are you 25 now?

It’s sounds like Santa dumped the motherload on you this year and it sounds like Grammy Carla helped Santa shop. You and I both know that Mommy and Daddy like to shop from that hippie magazine with the wooden toys. Listen, I grew up with wooden toys that my dad made from hand and I never appreciated it either. That’s what Grammies are for. The sparkly stuff. But believe me, one day you will know how lucky you were that you had to build your own Barbie Dreamhouse out of wooden blocks or drive her around in a Corvette made from a shoebox. It will make you stronger. I promise.

And don’t knock the truck stop souvenir, especially if it is a giant pencil. I myself am partial to miniature license plates that say “Stephanie”. Truck stops can be scary places but they give the kinds of gifts that keep on giving. Like acid reflux or VD. But I will let you in on this little secret. That giant pencil? You will never use it.

I am great, Madelyne. Truly. I know I’ve been a rotten excuse for both a pen pal and an Auntie as of late, but sometimes Life comes out of nowhere and takes you by both hands. After months of dipping only my toes into Korea, aching constantly for something else, something happened. Korea delivered. I suddenly found myself surrounded by great friends and an impossible-to-keep-up-with social calendar. Rains, pours. You know the drill.

My quiet, contemplative, simple Korean life became an endless stream of dinners and parties and noraebangs and cameras and subway rides and taxicabs and laughter and cafés and shopping. Oh, the shopping. You mother would lose her mind here. Most importantly, the one thing I had been craving for years, community + a place I love, was in front of my face. And that is the lovely thing about being an expat in Korea. The transient, impermanance that was at first unnerving has given way to complete and utter presence of mind. Dare I say it feels like home.

That said, I do miss the ocean. I have been to the ocean three times since I’ve been in Korea and let me tell you something. It is not Gloucester, Massachusetts. That is for sure. And do I remember Gloucester, Massachusetts? Girl, you crazy? Of course I remember Gloucester, Massachusetts.

All. Twenty. Or. Thirty. Something. Years. Of. It.

But let me explain something. The word “because” is used in transitions to indicate cause and effect relationships. Don’t get me wrong. I miss you, too. But you don’t miss me because I miss the ocean. Additionally, you should absolutely come visit me in Seoul, but not because I remember things about Gloucester, Massachusetts. It’s just a little detail I feel obligated to correct, given my current occupation.

If you come to Seoul, I would love some little treasure toys! I was thinking more along the lines of fresh whole wheat bread from Alexandra’s bakery and an extensive collection of all-natural toiletries, but pine cones and twigs will do. A fairy house? That sounds cool.

Last week I dreamt that you and I were swimming together. We were probably on a mountain, swimming in the tallest waves all the way up to our teensy toes. Actually, I am sure of it.

Love you, miss you.
(I’ll openly admit that the brevity of those words just kills me..)
Aunt Steph


Read Full Post »

My sweet, sweet Madelyne,
Today you turned five years old. I don’t really need to tell you this since the second you picked up the phone this morning you said, “It’s my birthday Aunt Steph. I am five.”

{October 4} Five-year-old

I honestly don’t know how this happened. In fact, I remember when Mommy & Daddy and I were boozing it up in Nicaragua & Costa Rica, mere moments before you were conceived. See, Mommy and Daddy spent almost two weeks sharing a room with me & Mary Lee. In the glow of my 30th birthday, they took leave to Managua and got right to business at the Los Feliz. It was a very magical place, I want you to know. We’d spent Christmas Eve there a week earlier, skinnydipping in the pool under starry skies and the thunder of midnight firecrackers.

I trust that in the future, when you skinnydip with your friends, you will be fully clothed.

I remember, also, when I started getting the phone calls from Honduras. And emails about a possible “medical evacuation”. And the moment it occurred to me, “Heidi’s pregnant. That’s what’s happening here.” I lived in a cottage on the ocean in Lanesville with no cell phone service and had to run up the street to check my messages. I stood on the top of that hill, freezing and shivering, jumping up and down and cheering into the wind.

You and I were connected from the moment I first put my hands on the bump in Mommy’s stomach. I am not a doctor or a mystic or anything with a fancy title, but of that one thing I am certain. I had never in my life wanted to meet someone as much as I wanted to meet you. I sang to you and I talked to you and like a small child that doesn’t understand biology, I asked you repeatedly to come out.


The year you were born was without a doubt the most difficult year of my life, for reasons I hope & pray you will never have to live through. Everything was crumbling around me with a velocity that was numbing, and just when it got really bad, it got awful. At the end of August, my grandfather drove himself to the hospital that he would not check out of, the place we would spend the next month watching the cancer spread to his brain. I was hollow and carved out, intensely awake and intensely asleep at all times.

To deal with the stress, I took an interest in knitting and grinding my teeth. I knit the same scarf a hundred times and ripped it out a hundred times more. I became obsessed with my dental plan, all the things we could do to my teeth in one month and the endless amounts of free stuff retrieved at each visit. I drove aimlessly every single day. Everywhere and nowhere. There were not enough showers in a day to clean me sufficiently and wash it all away.

And then there you were. The day before we buried Grampy, there you were. I had cried the entire 3000-hour commute from Brooklyn to northern New Jersey and walked into the arms of my family, into the house I never wanted to leave again. I ate roast beef sandwiches and my sister’s birthday cake, neither of which tasted like anything. I sat on the floor reading Grampy’s love letters to Grammy and found the first letter he wrote to my dad, when he was stuck on a ship in the South Pacific and had missed the birth of his first son. And then my phone rang.

A few days later, I packed my car with every possible thing from that house that would allow me to hold onto my grandparents for one half-second longer, and I drove straight to you. You were in your car seat on the kitchen table and you turned as soon as you heard my voice. I knew it then, like I know it now: you and me, we like each other. You were so tiny. Can you believe you were ever that tiny? I can’t. Because now you are so big and so bright you fill up an entire room, sometimes to the chagrin of one’s ears and one’s sleep patterns.

But I want you to know this, Madelyne, because it is important that you always know these things: you healed my heart that year. I was broken in a million places and you came along like a very tiny medicine man. You were so little and so simple and so impossibly perfect, and very slowly, I began to be put back together. Sitting in my arms, you were like superglue. Epoxy. Epoxy Baby, that’s what you were.


And now you are five and I wonder if you are not, in fact, one hundred. Because it does seem like a hundred, maybe a million, years ago. And you are really smart now. Like crazy genius smart. Even if you are starting to insert “like” into every sentence. I dread the day you use OMG or LOL or some crazy internet-acronym of The Future. More troubling is the fact that you are also developing what is best called the Masshole accent. It is slight, it is subtle…but it is there. Don’t worry. It will be short-lived. Your father will see to that.

On the plus side, your parents’ passion for sarcasm has not been lost on you, as you tried it out on me tonight. Some snarky remark about hoping your birthday present arrives by next year. When I retorted with my own dry wit and sarcastic quip at your naïvety, you immediately enlightened me with, “I was joking, Aunt Steph.” Ah, so you’re onto me already.

But the cutest thing you said tonight was about the webcam. “You know what will be really exciting, Aunt Steph? When we get to talk on the webcam.” I sighed, trying to explain the very exhausting issue of Apple computers and $300 iSights and useless drivers and money wasted. You paused, exasperated, and shouted, “I’ve been talking about this all year long!”

Me too, Madelyne. Me too.

Happy Birthday, my best girl. I am sorry I am not there to make your cake in the image of your cats, and I am sorry that I always live so far away and will probably always live so far away. It breaks my heart every time you say “I cannot wait until you come back,” knowing what I know regarding that subject. You may not understand this now, but you will be very grateful I live so far away in about 15 years when you want to backpack around the globe with your boyfriend or leave college to become a rock star. You will know where to find me and I promise to be patient & hold back your hair when you are barfing up that pitcher of sangria. And while we may not be family in the traditional sense, you will always be my family and I will always be Aunt Steph.

Mil besos, mi amor.
I miss you like the moon misses the stars.

Read Full Post »


Dear Aunt Steph,

Thank you, oh thank you, Aunt Steph! I really, really like my new chopsticks. I love them! They’re my favorite. Now if anyone comes over, they can have any spoon or any fork they want because now I have these chopsticks. I would love it if you could come and see me with these chopsticks. So far, I’ve eaten beans, peas and rice with my chopsticks. Now, I’m eating pizza and hot dogs with them. I’d really like to go to Korea — I’m working on my chopsticks so I can be as good as you and the other Korean people. I try not to put them too far into my mouth. I don’t want to poke a hole in my neck! Then the food wouldn’t go to the right place…

I’m on vacation this week, and I really miss you, Aunt Steph. It’s been raining a lot, for 2 days. Today it was raining, but the sun came out but just for a little. And do you know what? I had wished that the sun would shine more and that the rain fairies would go more. Because Mommy and me and Simon and all of my other friends like to play outside. No more Nor’Easter stuff! And my brother is sleeping — it’s a good day for that. I’m going to play a game with Mommy. Maybe Color Train or my Dora game.

Dear Aunt Steph

I hope you like your painting. I made it for you. It is a picture of Korea, and Massachusetts, and Florida, and Mexico and Maine. Me and you, we miss each other. We like to see each other. I love you as much as the desert misses the rain.

xoxo Madelyne

Dear Madelyne,

I am so glad you like your chopsticks! I talked to Mommy on the phone and she says you are using them all the time. They aren’t always that easy, are they! People say here that the mark of chopstick skill is being able to pick up a single bean without it slipping out. Do you think you can do that? I haven’t tried because I almost never see beans here. Which makes it kind of a dumb analogy, don’t you think? I mean, they have these kind of chewy dried beans which I see sometimes but it’s kind of like saying that the true mark of fork skill is if you can eat a Little Debbie Nutty Bar without leaving crumbs. I, in fact, possess that skill but it has less to do with forks and more to do with my affection for Nutty Bars.

I think the true mark of chopstick skill is if you can eat noodles with them. The next time you eat spaghetti, see if you can use your chopsticks. It’s really hard. Tonight I had something called bibim naenmyeon, which is delicious spicy buckwheat noodles with vegetables and fish. I am much better at it than I was a month ago, but I still make a mess. There are lots of soups with noodles in them and sometimes my noodles slip off my chopsticks and splash back into my soup. Don’t worry. It’s not embarrassing at all to splash all your friends in the face with hot soup.

Please don’t poke a hole in your neck. I like your neck just as it is.

While I’m sorry to hear that it’s been raining so much, it makes me really glad I am not there. I have a very special distaste for spring in New England. I also like to play outside. I also like to be warm and I also like not wanting to crawl into the back of a closet and die a slow, painful death. That is how spring in New England often makes me feel. But I don’t have a Dora game. Maybe that would help. Did it help you?

I really love my painting. Like, a lot. I especially like that you were able to get so many places into one painting. I mean, Korea and Mexico!? That takes skill, my friend. They are nothing alike. Maine and Florida? Talent, honey, that is talent.
I haven’t been drawing very much lately, but I have been taking lots of pictures. Remember how you asked about my students? Here is a photo of me with a few of my favorite students:

Me and my boys

That’s Kevin and Tom up in front. They are little troublemakers, but I like them very much. They are very smart and they bring me presents. Poking his head up behind them is Mike, who is probably one of my sweetest and most polite students. And crouching down beneath them is Andy. I think it’s pretty safe to say that I am in love with Andy. He is super smart, gets straight A’s, plays soccer and brings me chocolates. He is 9 and smarter than the 13-year-old who has taken this same class three times.

Now Mommy and Daddy will probably start making jokes about my tendency to date well out of my age-range and that if they’re not careful I will soon be dating your brother. But let me just state for the record that while I am certainly no Mary Kay LeTourneau, we cannot choose who we love. Love just happens, Madelyne. Always remember that.

Me and you, we do miss each other. But we have letters and soon Aunt Steph will get her ass in gear and get a freaking webcam and then we can even see each other from one side of the earth to the other. Isn’t that amazing? It will almost be like playing together except for the snuggling. I miss that most.

I miss you as much as the ocean misses the fish.

xoxo Love, Aunt Steph

Read Full Post »

Dear Aunt Steph,

Hello from Niles Beach! It looks rainy. I think it looks a little nice. I wanted to buy this card for you. I named the swans “Heidi” and “Aunt Steph” because they were hugging. And you guys are friends. I don’t see any swans on Niles Beach today. I need the binoculars. I see the sky. Now I see a boat that was far away. I think I see a castle. Actually, I think I see mountains. I see Boston! I do see Boston! One of those buildings is where my Dad is working.

How are things going at work for you, Aunt Steph? How tall is the building you work at? What are your students’ names? What are the students learning? Are you enjoying getting to know your students? Do they have snack time?

Today I went to Gymboree with Simon and Mommy. I learned how to hang on the monkey bars. I want you to come back soon so we can go together. If you’re going to see me do it, you might have to do it next year. I want to see you soon. I’m listening to music. I’m thinking of you. I am eating pretzels. I love you and I miss you! I hope you’re doing good!

Lots of love,

Dear Madelyne,

Thank you for your letter. I love getting your letters! You are a very good writer, especially for your age. Your drawing of the fireworks in the garden was also very nice. It’s hanging on my fridge.

I still cannot find the post office so I am writing you back here. I have an Easter present for you. Hopefully, I will find a post office before it becomes a Christmas present. I hope you like it. I got it for you when I was in Japan. You’d think it wouldn’t take a month to find a post office, but I have a saying I like to use over here that goes: “one thing a day”. Meaning, if I found out how to get my pants ironed today, you can bet your bottom dollar that’s all the excitement I can handle for another week or so.

Things are going fine at work, thank you for asking. The building has ten floors, which is much taller than any building in Gloucester, but is not as tall as Daddy’s building. Daddy’s building is very tall, one of the tallest in Boston. Ask Daddy how many floors are in his building. It’s a lot more than ten. I have students named Layla, James, Jenny and lots of Jessica’s. I had a student last week named Dragon, and I have one student named Madonna. She never does her homework. But those are their “English” names. They have Korean names but I have no idea what those are.

My students are learning how to memorize things in English. Some of my students are learning that they can charm me with chocolates and A-plusses, others are learning that I have little patience for text messaging in class and not doing one’s homework. My younger students are reading a book called Simon Simple, about a boy on a train. There is not a lot to that story, except all my students call Simon “Semen” when they read aloud. Ask Mommy why that’s funny.

My older students read better books which are actually teaching me a lot of things, too, like about the Salem Witch Trials, which apparently no matter how many times you go to the Witch Museum on field trips while growing up or perform “The Crucible” in middle school, you will not retain any of that information. My oldest class read a book called “Gross Body Facts” that you would really enjoy a lot. It’s about gross things like burping, tooting and picking scabs.

Yes, for the most part, I am enjoying getting to know my students. Some of them are so cute it hurts. Some are such a pain in the ass it hurts. So it’s a toss up. Do you remember the time I asked if you wanted to go sit on your chair and you said, “No I will not and YOU will go sit on YOUR chair” and I asked if you wanted to go play in traffic? Sometimes it’s kind of like that except they are teenagers which is way worse. But they can roll their eyes and hate me all they want because at the end of the day they will still have bad acne and I will not.

Yes, they do have snack time. We have two five minute breaks during their 3-hour class. They eat some snacks similar to what kids you know eat in the US, but some are very different. I haven’t seen pretzels at all. They like some pretty disgusting things like dried squid. They do eat goldfish crackers just like you, except their goldfish have spicy chile on them. Also, most of their chips are meat flavor. “Steak” flavored cheetos are very popular here and believe me, they are not the cheetos Aunt Steph enjoys. Most of my students smell awful after breaks.

I prefer the students that eat cookies during breaks, especially the ones that share. They smell fine.

I can’t wait to see you on the monkey bars. You’re right; I will probably have to wait until next year. Maybe you could have Mommy take your picture so I can see!

I love you very much, Madelyne. Kiss your brother for me and please don’t grow up too fast while I’m gone!

Aunt Steph

Read Full Post »