Koon Vega and Sarah Srisathit live with their 5-year-old son Attitan in a 1910 craftsman on a corner lot in Mesta Park. Sarah grew up around Shawnee and met Koon more than a decade ago when she was traveling to Thailand, his home country. They now reside in Oklahoma City where they've built a branding business called Creative Vega. They're the first to admit that marriage, parenting and building a business together has had its challenges. They opened up about what they've learned along the way.
Tell us about your background and how you met.
Sarah: I grew up around the Shawnee area then went to Oklahoma Christian for college. I went on a mission trip to Thailand and ended up staying at the church Koon grew up in. We met but didn't spend a lot of time together. I went on after that to teach in South Korea. In the three years I was away from Thailand, Koon and I kept up a little bit chatting on Yahoo Messenger. He didn't even speak English at first but we had a lot in common. We both loved Smashing Pumpkins and we had similar style. I returned to Thailand and he was with a group picking me up from the airport. It was like we were best friends. There was just this crazy connection and it just felt seamless. I got there in May, he asked me to marry him in June and three months later we were married. It was so crazy and fast and 15 years later here we are. We got married in Thailand and lived with his parents there for a year. We returned to Oklahoma and lived with my mom about eight months but it was such a contrast from Bangkok, a densely populated area.
So what was it like to move from Thailand to Oklahoma?
Koon: All of a sudden I'm in this place where there are these sunrises and sunsets and stars you can see! But there were no people. I was like, 'I've got to get out of here and be where I can see people on the streets.’
Sarah: So on faith, we moved into Oklahoma City. Neither of us had jobs but we were determined to make it work. We got jobs within the first couple months. Koon started doing contract work for an ad agency. In Thailand, he worked for a television production company writing jingles for big companies. I was working full-time as a data analyst and soon after that I became a landman for a small broker. But when the economy crashed, I was out of a job.
Koon: It just seemed like a good transition time to start Creative Vega. That first year our backs were really against the wall. I had a lot of clients when I was doing contract work but the second my website went live, the calls stopped coming. I was suddenly the competition. So we decided we would just focus on creating relationships. So we did a lot of free work for people in that first year just to support local non-profits and to build relationships. Now it's been almost eight years that we've never had to go out and look for clients. They just come to us.
What has it been like to work together?
Sarah: It was horrible at first. It was so damaging to our relationship. Our selfishness and our pride blew up all the time. So many times I said, 'I'm done and I'm never working with you again.'
Koon: I was highly critical of everything she did. It was a really stressful and really difficult point in our relationship.
Sarah: We stumbled through all that and after Attitan was born, it was like an explosion. Babies magnify every problem. It was like, 'Oh, here's something you should have dealt with in your relationship a long time ago because now you have to sort it out with a baby.' We went to counseling for a year and it didn't work. I called my friend to tell her Koon and I were going to get a divorce. She suggested a different counselor who agreed to see us. We went to him and he told us we didn't need a counselor, we needed a spiritual mentor. Koon and I both grew up in church but we never really talked about how the Holy Spirit could change our hearts. In an hour of talking with that man, I saw Koon soften and I could see his heart changing. That saved our marriage.
Koon: Since coming through that, we've really been able to work together and parent together a lot better. We started working as a team. We support each other because the last thing you want your kid to see is that you're not on the same team.
How would you describe your parenting style?
Koon: Rock-and-roll, jump up and down and be loud. I recently noticed I have a tendency to say "no" too often. I'm trying to just wait, watch him do things and then talk about it with him later.
Sarah: Rock-and-roll is right for Koon. He has a relationship with Attitan I will never have. He can learn things from Koon I could never teach. It's so great to have different approaches. It teaches him at home that people are different out in the real world, too. Koon may reward him with ice cream. That's their special thing. Would I do that? No! I come home like, 'Ice cream? Again?' But that's their thing and Koon and I will be different. I've learned to look at the differences as ways to enrich Attitan's life. My parenting style is one that's always changing as I learn. We're learning to be really open with him that we haven't been parents forever. I have no experience but him. We never try to cover up making a mistake. It's learning, forgiving, gracious parenting.
Koon: Definitely a lot of grace and forgiveness. It took us a long time to grow up and be mature enough to have a child. We had him when we were 38 and even then we were still very childish in a lot of ways. But we admit to him we don't know everything and we all learn together.
Do you do anything at home to bring Thai culture to Attitan?
Koon: Sarah loves Thai food even more than me. One of the reasons she married me I think is so I could cook her Thai food.
Sarah: Yes, I had to have a way to stay connected to Thai food some way, somehow.
Koon: I cook a lot of Thai food for Attitan and that's a big way to teach him about the culture. Good Thai food is like an explosion in your mouth. It's all about really strong flavors and he loves it. I also try to speak Thai with him but I need to do that more. I would love to be able to just speak it all the time with him someday but I don't speak it enough at home right now. But I know Attitan will grow up here in this world. As much as I want to speak Thai here, there are things he needs to learn in English. For example he's really into building bridges right now. When I talk to him using words like "architecture" or "engineering" that serves him because he lives in a country that speaks English. I wonder sometimes if it's just too much to add Thai words to that right now.
You both work from home. Is it difficult to find balance?
Koon: Work is not something I can separate from my life. I enjoy my work and what we have is dynamic.
Sarah: I grew up in a household where you worked 8 to 5 and spent time with the family at night so it's been a learning experience.
Koon: We don't have that kind of structure. I usually start work around 10 a.m. and sometimes I work really late. But I get to spend time with my family for the first four hours of the day. We can build LEGOs, have breakfast. If Sarah needs something during the day I can help her. We see each other all day and I'm very grateful for that.
What does parenthood mean to you?
Koon: Fatherhood is being there. Not just physically, but emotionally. My Dad wasn't there for me much. He was working all the time. I know he loves me but it wasn't expressed. Fatherhood is being there in the moment with Attitan. It's constantly fighting the urge to grab my phone. If I'm going to play with him, I'm all in playing with him. If we watch a movie together, I'm just watching the movie and not doing anything else.
Sarah: I see Koon's approach as being so empowering to Attitan. I'm usually all about getting things done. So if I need to clean the house, for example, I want Attitan to be busy with something else so I can get it done. But Koon makes him feel big enough to help and do things, too.
Koon: If I need to unload the dishwasher, I make it a game and I involve him. It takes longer, but I can see he absorbs that time. When we do things together he can see I have flaws. I might not always do things right but he can see me make mistakes and apologize. I never had a good example of that so I want to change that for him.
Sarah: I’m sure my perception of motherhood will continue to evolve as I evolve as a mother, but for now, it seems to mean it’s just a whole lot of learning and growing right along with the very child that made me a mother. Learning and improving on myself helps him to see that we really never reach a level of perfection and it’s okay to make mistakes because we can learn more from them. My friend’s husband, Daniel Teigen, recently said, ‘We want our ceiling to be our children’s floor.’ I think that sums it up. I want to make sure I push that ceiling as high as I can, spiritually, mentally and physically so I can make sure my child starts off at a much higher level than I ever reached.
[Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for style and clarity.]