Posts Tagged ‘Battle of Yangsan’

The combatants in the mostly low-grade conflict entering its eighth week here in Yangsan don’t even qualify as flyweights. In one corner is So-min “Rhymes with So Mean” Kim, the four-year-old daughter of my older sister-in-law. So-min stands 41 inches tall and weighs in at 36.5 pounds. In the other corner is my pride and joy, Ian “Monkey” Melland, who is 16 months old, 35 inches tall and tilts the scales at a whopping 26 pounds.      

This is clearly a mismatch.      

My father- and mother-in-law live with my wife’s older sister Kyung-mi, her husband and So-min. For the first couple days after KJ and I moved in with our little guy, So-min tolerated Ian fairly well. But then the novelty wore off and she began to resent the tiny interloper who kept touching her stuff, playing with her toys and – worst of all – receiving warmth and affection from her grandparents and parents.      

On about our third day here, So-min decided it was time to show Ian his proper place by giving him a good shove that sent him right down on his keister. The first point had been scored by So-min – but at a cost. Her sneak attack was roundly condemned and she got a good scolding from her mom.      

So-min adjusted her tactics and limited herself for a while to simply ripping any toy Ian was playing with out of his hands – even if it was his own toy. A favorite maneuver of So-min’s is to grab a toy from Ian and if he begins playing with another toy to grab that one as well. It’s not uncommon to see her suddenly standing in the living room clutching about five or six toys that she has confiscated.      

Unfortunately, clear limits and consistent discipline are lacking in So-min’s life. Her parents both work, and between their commute and the long hours typical in South Korea, they don’t have a lot of time with So-min during the week. They let her get away with a lot, because they don’t want to spend what little time they have with her ragging her out, I guess. KJ’s parents let her get away with a lot, too, because they’re old and simply lack the stamina to keep up with a little kid.      

So-min quickly realized that generally my wife and I were the only ones who were going to scold her. This emboldened her and she suddenly began to slap at Ian’s hands, take things from him and push him around with abandon. She would stare unblinkingly at us and nod her head when we told her what she did was wrong, but then she’d go right back at it. So-min scored point after point after point while our little guy was completely shut out.      

So-min scores a point.

So-min scores a point.


What So-min didn’t know, though, is that Ian has phenomenal grip strength and that he bites like a crocodile. He is also extraordinarily persistent and has an innate grasp of tactics.      

Finally, after a couple weeks of being bullied and feeling increasingly frustrated, Ian reached his limit. One evening, after being pushed a couple times and having several toys snatched away, Ian saw his chance to score a point. And by God he took it.      

So-min was sitting on the couch with Harabaji (Korean for grandfather). They were sharing a peaceful little moment and suddenly Ian got a gleam in his eye. He quietly walked over to the couch and clambered up beside the two of them. So-min gave him a little push and that was it. In a flash, Ian had grabbed both of So-min’s pigtails and was yanking on them with all of his might. He’s very strong for a toddler and you could see and hear that So-min was in some pain. KJ rushed over and pried the pigtails out of Ian’s hands – which took a few moments.      

One point for Ian.      

As soon as KJ had freed So-min’s pigtails from Ian’s grip, however, he lunged for her bangs and pulled down hard, really hard. So-min was in absolute shock and looking a little the worse for wear by the time KJ was able to rescue her again. Her glasses were askew and hair was sticking out all over the place.      

Two points for Ian.      

Harabaji was having a pretty good chuckle over this, but everybody else was making lots of noises to indicate shock, concern and disapproval. KJ and I scolded Ian and told him what he did was bad, it’s wrong to pull people’s hair and he better apologize to So-min, etc. But I have to say, our reprimands were half-hearted. We don’t want to raise a brawler and we’d prefer that Ian not get into fights, but deep down we were proud of him for standing up for himself. To be really honest, we felt like So-min had it coming. Judging by the warmth with which Harabaji was looking at his little grandson, he apparently thought so, too.      

You can just feel the love, can't you?

You can just feel the love, can't you?


A night or two after this, So-min went over the top. Ian was sitting on Harabaji’s lap and she went over to sit down next to them. Suddenly, she grabbed Ian’s face from behind and pulled his head back hard. Harabaji tried to stop her, but she did it again.      

KJ and I lost it and some family drama ensued. In the aftermath of this, KJ and I seriously considered moving out. We didn’t leave in the end, but we have had a strict policy of never leaving Ian and So-min alone together ever since that night. We watch So-min like hawks.      

So-min kept things pretty low-key for the next couple days – some toy snatching and the odd swat at Ian’s grabby little hands, but nothing too bad. Then, one morning in the kitchen, she decided it would be fun to put Ian in a headlock. Big mistake. Big, big, big mistake!      

I was standing right there when it happened, and I was about to snap at So-min and move her arm away from Ian’s throat. The poor little guy’s face showed that he was both surprised and unsure of how to escape from his predicament, and I had just had it with So-min by this point. But before I could make a move to end things, Ian looked down at So-min’s forearm, opened his mouth wide and chomped down with all of his mandibular might.      

I mentioned earlier that Ian bites like a crocodile. Of course that’s an exaggeration, but not much of one. It really hurts when he bites us, so you can imagine how much it hurt So-min. Once again, she looked completely shocked and her little eyes were filled with tears. Once I separated them, she started crying.      

KJ gave Ian a perfunctory “Don’t bite, Ian. That’s bad.” Then she examined her niece’s arm. For the sake of appearances, I also told Ian biting was bad as I carried him to our bedroom and closed the door. What I was really thinking was, “Good job.”      

This sort of thing has become routine now. Only once has So-min done anything as bad as the night she pulled back on Ian’s head. She punched him one morning, but I put the fear of God in her right away. It’s just been pushing and hand-swatting and taunting since. And, of course, she has continued to rack up the points while little Ian just scores just a point or two here and there.      

Ian’s last point was quite the shocker, though. On Saturday night, KJ was with Ian in her parents’ room. Kyung-mi was giving So-min a bath in the ensuite. Now, Ian loves bare skin. So when Kyung-mi brought out her butt-naked little girl, Ian got up and started to walk on over.      

“Grab him! Grab him!” Kyung-mi cried out to my wife, but KJ couldn’t be bothered and did nothing to stop him.      

Ian reached out to touch So-min’s tummy. She pinched his arm. He reached out again to touch her tummy. She pinched his arm again. Then, suddenly, Ian surprised the entire family by slapping So-min in the face.      

Everybody laughed except Kyung-mi – and, of course, So-min. Even KJ’s mom laughed, and she’s very biased towards So-min.      

I hate to say it, but I was really proud of Ian when I heard about this. He’s about a hundred points behind and he’ll never catch up to So-min, but it’s for this very reason that the points he does score are just so deeply satisfying. It’s a bit like watching an Ewok take on a Storm Trooper. You can’t help but cheer for the little guy. 

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