For the Love of Mom
Most of what I know about love, self-respect, and kindness came from lessons taught by my mother. My mother taught me about the strength we gather from family, both the one we are born with and the one we create for ourselves. She taught me that at our lowest points, the hand of love will catch us when we feel like we are falling through space, pulled down by the gravity of despair.
My mother taught me to be a fierce advocate for myself and my child. One look from Mom would shut down anyone who dared to cross her children. There was never a critic or a bully who could withstand my mother’s withering Korean Death Stare. When I was in kindergarten, a group of kids decided to chase me down the street yelling “Hey, Jap! Hey, Gook! Go home to China!” and pulling back the corners of their eyes to mock me. I ran home to tell my mother, who said, “Those are ignorant children with ignorant parents. You tell them you are Korean and proud to be both Korean and American.”
The following day, when the same kids taunted me, I didn’t run away, I stood my ground, shoulders squared and said, “Hey, dummies. I’m KOREAN. In fact, I’m two things, not one!” I turned on my heels, head held high, and walked away. The bullies never bothered me again.
A friend once told me that my brothers and I have “an inordinate amount of self-confidence.” Whatever confidence we might project comes from the knowledge that no matter how far or how hard we may fall, our mother will be there to pick up the pieces. When I was a first year law student, I questioned whether I really wanted to be a lawyer and considered quitting. I thought my mom would be upset, but without missing a beat, my mother said, “If you want to come home, tell us when to pick you up. I am proud of you no matter what. I just want you to be happy.”
My mother is not afraid to tell us the hard truths of the world, tempered with a wicked sense of humor. My mother values truth and honesty above all else. When my brother announced that he wanted to be a professional singer, my mother didn’t hide her skepticism at his chosen career. Even so, she beamed with pride after his first public performance, telling him, “You’ve got a great voice. You can do this. You know, I’m your mother, so I would tell you if you sucked.”
My mother taught me about community-building and what it means to be a friend. She’s the kind of person who sits at a friend’s bedside for forty days in an ICU, hosts both Bible study and poker parties, and has at least a dozen people who claim her as their “best friend.” When my father underwent major surgery a few years ago, there was an endless parade of friends and family through the ICU waiting room, bringing flowers and food and hugs. My mother has been on the giving end of such care so often that people seemed glad to have a chance to pay it back.
I won’t be with my mom this Mother’s Day, but I hope she knows that I carry a little bit of her with me always. The greatest compliment anyone ever bestowed on me was saying, “Sometimes, you’re just like your mom.”
Happy Mother’s Day!