Author: Jennifer Ha

What is the Lifespan of a Memory?

Memory is a funny thing. Why do we remember the things we do, and how is it that people remember the same event differently? How does one person remember and another forget? I’ve always been fascinated by this, and so when my kids were very young I began an informal experiment by asking them at different stages about their memories: “What’s your best memory? What’s your worst memory? What’s your first memory?” Even with their young brains, there are some things that they have already begun to forget. Which leads me to one of my biggest fears: that I will begin to forget too — their stories, my stories and my family’s stories. And if I forget bigger events, what will happen to those little moments? How my mother laughed and my father smiled? And what my daughter’s first hug felt like? This melancholy musing has led me to ask: What’s the lifespan of a memory? Family stories seem to be the easiest thing to keep alive. I keep dredging them up and telling them to my kids …

Rings to Remember: The Art of Mourning Jewelry

A collection of mourning with distinct features; broken tree, urn, and pearls. (Photo courtesy @luckandlockets) When I was 10 years old, my parents gave me a copy of Gone With the Wind as a birthday present. While I didn’t understand it all, one of the many things that stuck out in my mind from the book was the concept of mourning. I learned that in Scarlett O’Hara’s world, society had strict rules to follow about behavior and attire after the loss of a family member. In just a few chapters, Scarlett goes from 16-year-old flirt to widow, and, as society dictated, being a widow she wore a long veil and black, eschewing social activities in observance of her loss. While these strict customs have mostly faded, one physical relic that remains from that time is the jewelry. Called mourning jewelry — also referred to as memento mori jewelry — these pieces commemorate the death of a loved one and serve to remind us that death will come for us too. As an antique jewelry enthusiast, …

10 Things I’ll Never Post on Facebook

I post frequently on social media, particularly Facebook. I wouldn’t classify myself as an oversharer, but I will post up to five times a day if I think something is worth sharing. Is it funny? Is it interesting? Is it somehow otherwise significant? Like many proud parents, I posted WAY too many photos of my kids at first. But I quickly realized that those posts were only interesting to about one percent of my friends. And I never get too personal about what I really think and feel — it’s really a false intimacy Facebook seems to foster. As a result of plenty of trial and error, I now have very clear guidelines for what I will or will not post. Here’s a short list: 1. Coded Jabs: I will not post anything about personal relationships, either overtly or in code. That violates a trust. “Don’t you just hate it when people [insert friend or family name here — and you know who you are] don’t send thank-you notes? SMH.” 2. Sick Bait: I will not …

Why I Finally Got My Very Own Minecraft Account

One day several years ago, the kids are playing Minecraft and I hear this from the other room: “Okay! Meet you at the head shop!” My parental ears perk up, and I casually call, “Wow, they have head shops in Minecraft? What do they sell?” “Heads, Mom. What do you think?” Then and there I decided it was worth the investment for me to get a Minecraft account too. My kids have been playing Minecraft for almost four years, but aside from installing “mods” (software modifications) for them and playing all-around IT support, I just wasn’t that interested in it. I tried it but mostly for their safety, to see what was going on. The kids were thrilled I had joined, but my first experience just wasn’t that exciting so I bailed. No real head shops. I just remember punching trees to get wood, killing sheep to make a bed and gathering seeds to grow food. I really found it boring. At the time I didn’t know that that was just a tiny part of how …

Puppy Love Landed Me in the Doghouse

As soon as my kids knew what a puppy was, they wanted one. What began as a simple campaign of begging and tears evolved into a sophisticated multi-year mass operation. Sweet crayoned drawings of floppy-eared pooches began to come home regularly in school projects, and Christmas lists for Santa all had one major request: P-U-P-P-Y. My husband and I talked it over. I was for getting one; he was against. After years of asking, the kids started to step things up. In desperation, they began to leave pictures of puppies on the fridge on the shopping list, hoping that if they threw “puppy” on there, something might happen. -Milk -Hoisin sauce -Puppy They brainstormed and decided that maybe enlisting the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy as magical soothsayers on puppy progress would get them some answers. After a lost tooth or on the night before Easter, succinct notes were often accompanied by this question: “Will I get a puppy?” [Check yes or no.] “When? -3 months -6 months -1 year I was in a …

Giving My Daughter a Chinese Name

When I was expecting my daughter, my husband and I of course started to talk about names for the baby. The discussion dragged on for months without really getting anywhere. The names I liked, he didn’t, and the names he liked, I was like, “Really?” I began to appreciate how much culture is just as tied up in a name as the meaning or the sound. While all this was going on, I confided in my Southern-born Mom.“Well, I wanted to call you ‘Scarlett’ you know,” she told me. I vaguely remembered. “Yes,” she went on. “But your Dad didn’t want to because he was worried that you’d be a bookworm with a name of a hoyden.” Thanks, Dad. My husband’s last name is Ha, which was something we had to take into consideration. We both rolled our eyes when random servers at restaurants would give him back his debit card and invariably say, “Aha!” To note that, yes, his first name begins with an “A,” and yes, his last name is “Ha.” Put them …

TueNight letter Jennifer Bensko Ha

A Friendship Kept Alive Through Letters

The first time I saw Jim, I immediately noticed his height. He was so tall that his head cleared the dark, dusty cabinets in the Schermerhorn building. Bright blue eyes, and long limbs, he had been an elite fencer and he moved quickly and energetically. We were both in a beginning Finnish class at Columbia in the mid ’80s. It was a morning class, and the five of us in it would wait outside with our to-go coffees and make small talk. After class, Jim and I walked to our dorms together, becoming friends slowly, but I really got to know him when he began writing me notes. He’d leave them under my door, or send them through campus mail. “Do you want to study later? Go for a walk? Get coffee?” Back then, there really was no other way to reach someone other than by phone or by note. No Internet, no cell phones, no email, no social media. Telephones were wall mounted in hallways, so privacy was limited. Sometimes I’d miss him, sometimes not, but we’d see …

Why Is Talking About Her First Period Still So Awkward?

The average age for girls in the United States to get their first period is 12 to 13, though the range of normal spans 9 to 15. And some research has shown that even that number is further encroaching into childhood, dipping more and more below 10. As a mother of girls, that’s cause for pause. You want them to be spared of all that a little while longer. It feels like a very adult thing for a child to process and deal with, but the last thing you want is for her to be scared. Even though you’d dread the thought that that totally carefree part of childhood would be gone forever, you want her to be prepared. However, having “the talk” (or at least one of the “talks”) is not the easiest information to give or process. The conversation I’d never have with my daughter: “You see, honey, you’ll be dealing with blood for a very, very long time.” “How long?” “Just 38 years or so. Oh, and it’s every month…. But you get used to it.” Not such pleasant news. Of course it is a sign of good health, but let’s …

Why I Want My Son to Be a Feminist

As a parent, one of your strongest instincts is to protect your children from harm or hurt, physical or emotional. My grade-school-age daughter came home one day and looked a little glum. I asked her what happened. “I wanted to play kickball with the boys,” she said. “But one of them said that girls couldn’t play.” My own school days started coming back to me in a flash. “Did you ask him why girls couldn’t join the game?” I asked. “Did the other boys stand up for you?” “He said that girls couldn’t play well enough. I’m a good player, Mom! And no, the other boys just snapped in line. They decided I could be the referee.” [pullquote]My son noticed that something unfair was going on, and though he had the wrong word for it, knew inherently that it was discriminatory.[/pullquote] My son, who is a year younger than his sister, was listening to our exchange. He looked up from doing his homework. And said: “He’s just racist.” My daughter looked at me with raised …

The History of My Hair: A Timeline

Hair has always been the proving ground to see where you fit in, while trying your best to look good. As I cycled through my past hair trends, I realized I was casting out and reeling back the parts that worked — and the ones that didn’t. I went through a few bad cuts, got blonder and curlier than I meant to be, but eventually figured it out. Whatever quality it was that made me want to change my haircut every year is as much a part of me as anything else.

What I Found When I Unpacked My Kids’ Backpacks

It’s always fun to unpack the kids’ backpacks after a day at camp. Here, some of my findings: My son: Exploded ketchup pack, possibly multiple packs Several rocks. Important-looking Candy wrappers, various Muddy socks, heavily worn, freestylin’ in the main compartment Rain poncho from yesterday, still wet Favorite baseball hat with ketchup damage Three napkins, unused My daughter: Upside-down water bottle, half full, half of contents in formerly dry change of clothes One clean sock Wildflower book. Not ours Rain poncho, wet Uneaten yogurt from two days ago hidden in a secret compartment Random sticks One makeshift white headband Three napkins, one obliterated   And this:

Start Me Up: My Very First Stones Concert Was a Rite of Passage

My Dad did a killer Mick Jagger imitation in which he put his hands on his hips, stuck out his tush and made fish lips. I had a patch with big, fat Rolling Stones lips on the back of my jeans, stitched on the right ass pocket. We all laughed when my Dad once brought a seat warmer to one of their stadium gigs. When Some Girls came out, I got special permission from my parents to stay up late and watch them on SNL. As you can see, this love for the Rolling Stones was a family affair. In 1981, when the tour for Tattoo You was announced, I was finally old enough to go see them in person. The question was with who, and how. They’d only scheduled one date in Florida. Orlando was too far away for me to go with friends unchaperoned. My older brother and sister had left the house, and over the years I had watched them go to concert after concert, to see whatever groups came to South …

What Lurks Behind the Word ‘Wife’?

My young son recently asked me why some words are “bad.” He’s at the age where saying an illicit word brings a certain measure of delight and thrill due to the reaction of others, namely me, his Mom. He lets a naughty word slip, I admonish him, and we do it all over again. My daughter has a workaround. “I may think those words, Mom, but I just don’t say them aloud.” So when he asked me: “What makes a word bad, Mom?” I had to think about it. We, the users of language, assign meaning to words. If a society agrees on a meaning, it sticks. But language is a living thing. It changes. The meanings of words that have been around for thousands of years often transform, over time, into different meanings. So while I’ve been busy correcting his language for polite company, I’ve also been thinking about my own “bad” words. I surprised myself with the revelation that there has always been something about the word “wife” that bothered me deep down. …

Big Moments in My Big-Breasted History

Growing up in Florida in the ‘70s, everywhere I looked, boobs and bikinis. As my family was always at the pool or the beach, I just thought that bikinis were what most women wore, all the time. Laugh-In was on television, and seeing Goldie Hawn smiling and giggling in a red two-piece reinforced this. I was a tomboy and could have cared less what I wore. I did notice that boys, however, got away with wearing swim trunks (for reasons which eluded me). It all seemed so unfair. Of course karmically that meant that I would be blessed with that which I did not want: big boobs. My First I started to develop on the early side, and resisted bras for as long as I could. Finally, when I was about 10 years old, my mom trundled me off in the car to J.C. Penney in pursuit of the dreaded “training bra.” Mom took me first to Ladies’ Intimates to ask where to find bras for girls. A brassy-looking saleslady arranging merchandise in the corner yelled out …

The “Golden Ninja”: My Best Mom Hack Ever

Mom Hacking is a part of everyday life for a parent. Kids expect us to know how to do everything, period. And when we don’t, it can be painfully confusing to them. There was a point after I had my first child when I realized two things:  What I thought I knew about parenting was mostly going to be based on instinct, and through observing other parents. Then I learned the most important lesson of all: kids are the worthiest of adversaries. They’re smart, wily and born with the innate knowledge to outwit, exasperate and frustrate you. Something I didn’t know until I had crafty kids of my own. Babies and toddlers are more of a physical challenge. They seem difficult at first, but in hindsight, are relatively easy to please. You feed them, burp them, bathe them, let them sleep, then repeat all over again. Sleep deprivation is largely conceptual until Baby No. 1 comes along. It’s almost as if nature is toughening you up for what’s to come. The transition to toddlerhood naturally …

The Truth About Fitness Trackers: How Well Do They Really Work?

Last spring, I participated in my first triathalon. While I was training, whether I was in the pool, running, or on the bike, I began to notice some very fancy-looking fitness trackers that fellow workout fanatics were wearing. And I decided that I, too, wanted to track my progress as I prepared for my first major fitness milestone. But what kind of tracker did I want? A Fitbit? The Nike Fuel Band? A Jawbone UP? I began to ask around to see what people liked and why. I knew that I needed one that worked in the water because I love to swim, but I also didn’t want to spend a fortune. Luckily for me, soon after I started my investigation, I ran into a friend at a party who was wearing a very sleek-looking, modernistic watch. But it wasn’t just a watch! It was the $120 Misfit Shine — an attractive tracker that works in water AND doesn’t look like an aircraft-to-land satellite tracking device. Eureka! I had to have it. A depressing fact …

Tri Hard: How I Woke Up to “Go Time”

Before the start of my first triathlon, I had a couple of random thoughts. As I waded into the Hudson River, the first was that the water looked really murky, and equally disgusting. The second was, “Oh, just get over it.” Dipping my body down into the brown water, I put my face under for just a second. The water was cold through my wetsuit, and my feet squished on something underneath through my dive socks. Ewww. When did the jock in me get this precious? In our black wetsuits and yellow swim caps, bouncing up and down in the water, all of us women in the first wave looked nearly identical.  I remember thinking how comical it must appear from the shore. Waiting for the horn to sound, I looked quickly up at the beach to see my husband, family, and friends, who had come to cheer me on. Like a distant safety blanket. *** At some point in my mid-40s, I began to notice myself aging at a rate that seemed like hyperspeed. …