Though a new baby’s 100 Days is a celebration, it’s actually rooted in a somewhat sad history of Korean childbirth. Way, way back in the day, when we didn’t pay ten thousand dollar health insurance deductibles for ob/gyns and neo-natal specialists, infant mortality rates were high and many newborn babies never survived beyond three months. In fact, my brother-in-law James said that in their culture, the Chinese even acknowledge an infant’s survival through the first 30 days. But what with all the modern miracles of medical science and technology and miniature UV lamps that look like tiny tanning beds for jaundiced babies, we have turned a 3 month old baby’s birthday into a profligate party that rivals some of the Brooke Burke-hosted weekend benders on Wild On! Hey, not the new episodes with that trashy Tara Reid. Brooke has class.
At least, that's what we've done in our family. So Brooke Burke showing up at my sister's condo in a bikini and sarong probably would have raised some eyebrows, even if she was carting her two daughters along, but you get the idea. It gave our extended family a reason to get together, eat, drink and learn from Dad that it is a popular misconception that hippopotami are gentle creatures. (They’re not. Hippopotami – “hama” in Korean – are actually quite ferocious.) Not that we wouldn’t have rallied anyway, since it was Mom’s birthday, too.
The 100 Days celebration isn’t as extravagant and formal an affair as a baby’s dohl (1st birthday), but there are, as always, customs associated with it. There are prayers of thanks for the last 100 days and supplication for the next, but I don’t even think my parents know to whom they are offered, so we skipped that part. I found out later through research that ????? (sahm-shin-hahl-muh-nee) is some mythical goddess or spirit of some sort that takes care of Korean babies. Too bad my niece is only half Korean LOL!
We also skipped out on most of the traditional foods related to new babies, as if that wasn’t already apparent through our gross substiution of catered Chinese crabs for ??? (mee-yuk gook, seaweed soup – which I think we just had too much of already). Typically, the table also has fresh fruit (though there was some on Mom’s mango mousse cake), and a spectacular array of various dduk that all represent different things like longevity, health, etc. Instead of all those different dduks, Mom went to Ho Won Dang (???) dduk bakery and bought an enormous dduk cake, which I am going to guess is not something traditional, and just a specific request to the bakery by Mom. The cake says “Chook behk-il,” which roughly translates to “Happy 100 Days.” It’s spelled out with the skins of jujubes (Korean dates – I could make a joke here, but I won’t). That was enough tradition for us. My sister Jess baked tiny chocolate cupcakes, and let’s just say if there ain’t nuthin’ a little lipgloss can’t do for a pale, blotchy, lumpy, bumpy face, the same goes for frosting on cupcakes. ;)
Because there isn’t much exciting discussion about Korean baby-related traditions of yesterday, let’s go into how a baby’s first 100 days on planet Earth affect us today. You see, the arrival of a new baby changes everything. It doesn’t even have to be your own baby; it just has to be a baby that may require your seeing and babysitting it at least once a week (and when that happens, you might solemnly, but silently, swear to yourself that you will never have your own). Your vocabulary expands, your tone of voice pitches up by an octave and decreases by several decibels, your priorities about shopping, eating, and pretty much everything else in life turn completely inside-out, upside-down, round and round you turn me.
I have a fairly decent vocabulary seasoned with four letter words that occasionally downgrade to the scatological. Let’s just say that Sarah’s quality of vocabulary is inversely proportional to volume of ingested alcohol. However, I have a completely clean, even leaning toward SAT prep flashcards, vocabulary around my family. Before the baby was born, certain words were unspoken, and if they were, well, they inpire some sort of snicker from around the table, perhaps a blush, and always a “Sarah!” from a parent or other such adult in proximity. Now, such words like “poop,” “poo,” “poo poo,” and every variation, including the lesser refined versions, known to the English and Korean language of Number 2 are spoken with high-pitched giggly pink tones, as if the words were as harmless and cute as “kitten” and “bunny.” “Oh, shit” doesn’t have the same meaning or intensity when it’s a smiling exclamation of praise at the sight of some wonderful little swirly artwork the baby produced in her diaper.
But let’s not downplay the intensity of shit itself. Tiny, cute cuddly babies do not make tiny cute cuddly poop. I was in the recovery room just hours after my niece was born, and I witnessed the sticky, gooey, black (it is b-l-a-c-k black, not brown) filtrate in her barbie doll-sized diaper that could be used to permanently seal a nuclear waste container. Or be the nuclear waste itself. I have no idea why or how a baby that weighs less than a sack of potatoes could excrete such vile, foul stuff that stinks as if that bag of potatoes had been festering at the bottom of a compost heap for three years in the Tropics. Thankfully, it gets better. Babies go from the black tar stage, through a grainy mustard stage (I swear, that is what the professional call it, too), and finally into normal, albeit somewhat runny, poop. Grainy mustard. Now see if you
ever want to eat a Dodger dog again.
It’s not just “poop,” once a somewhat crude and indecent word and topic of conversation transforming into everyday adorable. For goodness’ sake, there’s an entire genre of books dedicated to it and they do refer to it as “poop.” It also applies to “breast.” You don’t even have to refer to a woman’s breast as a “breast” to maintain some gentility. Just say “boob.” It’s okay. You can breast feed a baby, or you can just "give her some boob," and that is a perfectly normal thing to say. There must be reason that “poop” and “boob” are mirror images of each other. I never noticed that before. How weird.
One more thing on “breast” and then we’ll move on to more intellectual things. There is something called a breast pump. Just read the words. They should never be together. Breast. Normal. Pump. Normal. Breast pump. Not normal! Apparently, someone out there is making millions of dollars by hooking women up like Holsteins to small, portable pumps that suction milk out of you with more velocital force than a Dyson. It is frightening. I saw it being done and I almost choked at what it looked like, and worse, at the thought of what it felt like. If you would like a breast pump so that you can have a baby and still go back to work by “pumping in style,” you can get it at the local cattle ranch. Oops, did I say dairy farm? I meant at The Pump Station. Either way, if ever I have a bowl of cereal, I’ll be taking it with Diet Coke.
Now I know words like “breast” aren’t totally unspeakable in normal conversation. However, for whatever reason, I hate the word “nipple.” All I hear now, if it’s not poop or boob, is “Where’s the bag of disposable nipples?” “Here’s the nipple!” “I need another nipple!” I shudder. “Nipple.” Ack! Stop saying “nipple!” That’s just me, though.
Entirely new words enter your vocabulary, too. I thought at night, we put on our pajamas and if we’re not too hopped up on caffeine, we “go to sleep.” Oh no no no, ye of little baby-ese. We go “nye nye.” It’s not “night, night” as in day vs. night, nor even “ ‘night, ‘night,” the contracted form of “goodnight.” It is “nye, nye.” Or perhaps it’s spelled “nai nai.” I don’t know for sure because it doesn’t show up when I hit Shift+F7 for the dictionary in Word.
My sister and I had a long, drawn out discussion about the proper word for a pacifier. I call it “a pacifier.” She calls it a “binkie.” Binkie is the name of my blanket, which yes, I still have, and sleep with every night, and I plan to christen my wedding bed with it, then pass my Binkie down through my own legacy. However, “binkie” is now the word for a pacifier, which can also be called the N-word that I cannot say.
It’s not just the words. Basically, the mere presence of an infant shifts your body and mind into strangely hormonal high gear that sends Emily Post flying through the windshield. Things like burping are no longer considered crass, gross, or tasteless. Burping gets a “Good girl!” and a particularly loud, deep belch merits applause. Just be careful when you’re out to a nice dinner with your normal adult friends sans baby. Burping out loud is not okay. Unless you’re in a Korean restaurant, of course.
So for my Mom’s birthday/niece’s 100 Day celebrations, we basically sat around the table picking at crabs with our hands like refugees, laughing out loud like hyenas, belching, applauding, and occasionally running to the Bugaboo to coo and giggle and check on poop. It was great.
Ho Won Dang
in the Koreatown Galleria
3250 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90006