My mother is what we call a “sleeping tiger.” She looks cute and cuddly, but there is a ferociousness that lies within her. This quality has been great for her in running her own business. I have mentioned before that my mother’s inner strength has been a large part of my family’s success. She supported not only my brother and me in Depression ridden 1980’s Korea, but several family members and close friends who were not faring so well. She has always been a generous type of person and quick to lend a helping hand. She is selfless to a flaw. She never spends a single cent on herself, and often saves all the best things she comes across for her children. It could be a piece of cake she saved to give to us that her friend had given to her, or it could be a cute pen that she thought we would enjoy, or it could even be saving up to buy us the designer jeans that we wanted. Giving was her joy. And all the sacrifices she made for us in her very hard-worked life made us love her all the more. Even as she came home after eight every night only to come home to cook and clean for a family of four, or as she would use her only day off in the week, Sunday, to take my brother and me on a picnic, even though she was severely sleep deprived and exhaustion ridden, she would do so with a smile and open heart. I love my mother, and it is only thanks to her character that I am the woman I am today. It is her insistence on the importance of education, her lead-by-example diligence, and her affectionate warmth that makes me a smart and capable mother and businesswoman. Because of this, it was so many times harder for me to make the decision to choose to love Fred, and to be his wife, and to bear his children. It was because of the sacrifices she made that she felt entitled to the position of my heart’s sole loyalty. It was because of the potential she grew in me that she felt she owned my life’s decisions. And when I defied that right, the tiger woke up.
Despite where it seems this is going, I will not bad mouth my mother. I love her, I loved her through all the pain she has given me, and I will love her always as she continues to disapprove of every aspect of my life. She was shocked at the discovery of my relationship with Fred, and because of this shock I give her the right to have acted the way she did when she found out. I continued the relationship despite all that she could say and do to discourage me. I continued it in secret though. I was not willing to give him up. The more she tried to tear us apart, the more I ran to him every single opportunity I had. The more she tried to monitor my every move, the more devious I became. The more she shed her tears for me, the more I shed my tears for him… and the more my heart broke for her. So intense were my feelings for my mother and Fred that somehow the intensity spilled into one another and I no longer could feel the difference between fear and love, joy and sadness, right and wrong. It was all a jumble of logic and emotions that had tangled its tentacles around my heart, and I was lost. My college years, particularly my junior year, was riddled with confusion and pain. I had to decide where I was going with this relationship, and every time I chose my mother over Fred, every fiber in my being fought for love, and I eventually found my way back to him.
So in my senior year of college I decided to marry Fred: a secret elopement at City Hall in New York City. My two college roommates were my witnesses. Now law bound us, and we could never be torn apart. We kept our marriage a secret for a long time… much like Romeo and Juliet who had plans to end the deep feud between their families with their love, I naively thought I too could fix my mother’s disapproval. I thought if Fred could adjust his immigration status and re-enter the path to medical school, then my mother would at least have half her dream of a Korean doctor son-in-law come true. But we were strapped for cash and less knowledgeable about the situation than now. So we had to wait till I got a proper job to begin. And when I did find a proper job, we found it was too late for the easy path to immigration adjustment. So we continued our secrecy for much too long, hoping, waiting, praying that somehow we could pursue our dreams and prove to my mother that Fred was worthy of me.
So years later, when I had sprung both the news that I have been secretly married and would now have Fred’s baby, my mother was understandably shocked. So I will not hold her actions against me against her, and I can say that I forgive her. But I will also say that there are things that she has done to me and said to me that have never been repeated to either my husband or my brother. I will keep it inside me and let it wither and die with me. But just because I refuse to talk about it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. And as much pain as I have given to her, she has, by habit of her generosity of the past, repaid me manifold. I can never utter the things that have passed between us, I cannot even think about it for more than a minute at a time, or I will be reduced to tears… already, as I am writing this, I feel the tears welling up in my eyes.
So when I was pregnant with my second child in Japan, I had giant expectations for the close bond that a mother and daughter should feel during this precious moment in life. And when those expectations fell from staggering heights, I was crushed beyond repair…