Mommy and Me

My mom and me at my baptism

My mom is by far the most influential person in my development.

I say that she is the most influential person even though she died when I was 16, and I’ve now lived almost 2/3 of my life without her.

This morning, on my habitual morning scan of Facebook, I came across this New Yorker piece, “Crying in H-Mart” and immediately, I thought of my mom.  Like the author, I lost my mother before I felt I should have, and, like her, random things can still (23.5 years later) send me sobbing in public places (often movie theaters, actually, where at least I can hide my crying in the darkness of the venue).

However, I wished that I could relate more to the cultural connection that Michelle Zauner shared with her mother.  I rejected most of my Taiwanese heritage growing up, in a fruitful and futile attempt to become more “American” (which, at that time, I thought of as cultural assimilation). Recently, the loss of my aunt, my mother’s only sister, combined with my own desire to support my children in embracing their cultural heritages, have helped me to realize the importance of reconnecting with and reclaiming my cultural identity. I’m working towards knowing who I am and who my mother was before the generation that knew her passes on.  It’s hard for me, and painful.  I don’t really know the people who knew my mom well as a young person, and, as extroverted as I seem, I feel so culturally awkward among older Taiwanese Americans. I’m working on it, and working towards it, because I have little hope that people are going to come flooding me with stories about my mom, before I knew her, out of the blue.  I know I have to ask. I know they’re likely to share.  But, I’m working towards it.

After reading “Crying in H-Mart,” I went on my morning run.  On my run, I thought about my mom at my age.  I realized that my mom would have been just about my current age when I was born.  It is 40 days until my 40th birthday.  I came home and calculated our respective ages, and realized that when my mother was my age, I would have been 14 days old.

That realization hit me hard.  I think of how similar and how different our lives are.  At my age, my mother had a 2-week old infant and a 10.5 year old son.  Her marriage was moving towards dissolution.  She had a graduate degree in chemistry but had never finished her doctorate after postponing it when my brother was born.  She would soon make a trek across the country to move to a small, mostly White suburb of California, to stay with my aunt, uncle, cousin and grandmother, leaving the friends and life she had established in upstate New York, to start a new life, as a single mother, near her family.

After my mother and father divorced, my mom withdrew from many of the connections she had previously.  She had to focus on taking care of my brother and me, working multiple jobs, earning new certifications, doing the single mom hustle (i.e. doing it all without any thought or time for herself).  In the midst of all her work commitments (which included weekends), she still found time to take us to church each Sunday, to make grocery shopping a special adventure (I did not know that grocery shopping was an errand and not a treat until well into adulthood), to foster connection within the family and to ensure we were studying hard.

She did this so that I could have my life. At almost 40, with my own 3-year old, 12 year old (and 2 grown daughters), a solid marriage, a doctorate, and an academic job (where I still hustle, but more out of drive than necessity), I have some comfort in that I have much of the life she would have wanted for me.

But, I also, more than anything, wish that she was here with me.

And so I am aware, perhaps more than many (almost) 40 year olds, that I am on borrowed time, that I need to model self-care for my children, that I need to leave them signposts about who their mother is, that I need to guide them to know their heritage, that I want them to be proud of who they are, that my life matters, that today is a day to make a difference, that loving hard is the best gift, that loving hard endures long after we are no longer here.

And now, I am crying at my computer, in my home, rather than in an H-Mart grocery aisle (although I may treat myself to a grocery shopping adventure after all of this), but I am grateful also for my mom’s legacy, for what I do have of her. For how hard she loved and how much she gave, and how blessed I am to be her daughter and how blessed I am that I still have time to grow.

I love you, Mommy. And I miss you. Somedays more than others, but every day. Thank you. I see you better now. Thank you.

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