When a child adopts a parent’s worry
Lately, I’ve become a fan of Yang Sang-guk, who plays the “Countryman” on KBS 2’s “Gag Concert.” He always begins his dialogue with, “Yes, I am a countryman from the countryside.” In one episode, he went to a cafe with his girlfriend, and she asked, “You’re from the country, so you’d like barley tea, right?” To which he replied, “I’m having an Americano. What, do you think all country kids grow up eating tree roots?” Yang got all upset and said, “Don’t look down on people from the country. I played computer games growing up!” I was watching the show with my son and had to tell him that I actually did eat tree roots growing up.
The Americano wasn’t the only thing we didn’t have. Though kindergartens were common in Seoul back then, the rural village where I grew up only had two. A friend of mine from a humble family told me about when he went for an interview at a kindergarten. To their disappointment, he didn’t get in. The interview must have been a way to eliminate children from affluent families. The principal had shown my friend a series of pictures and asked him if he knew what they were. He correctly identified a piano and a telephone because he had seen them at a rich neighbor’s house. When he was shown a picture of a heater with a stovepipe, he had no idea what it was. He said, “It looks like my grandfather’s tobacco pipe.”
Preschools and nurseries were also unfamiliar institutions back then. Most children from the previous generation literally had to grow up by themselves. Poet Ki Hyung-do, a former JoongAng Ilbo reporter who passed away 23 years ago, was one of them. In an excerpt from “Worrying about Mom,” he wrote: “With 30 bunches of radishes, my mom went to the market. She is still not home, though the sun went down so long ago. I am left alone in the room, doing my homework as slowly as I can. But my mom is still not home. Waiting for her footsteps, as light as cabbage leaves, I am alone and scared in the dark.” Though he named the poem “Worrying about Mom,” it should have been “Worrying about the Child.”
These days, working parents still worry about their children, but until now, they’ve been able to rely on day care. The mass closure of day care centers on Monday has caused a crisis among parents. But the children likely have no idea what is going on. I wonder how much they worry about their mothers and fathers, who have left them to sell their radishes.
by Noh Jae-hyun
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.