Category Archives: Mothermade

Race Matters

“No one will date you because you’re mixed race.”

My heart sank this past week when my son told me someone had said this to him, but I hid my hurt.

I said, “Did you tell him, ‘That’s okay, because I won’t date racist people’?”

“No!  I never thought of that,” he replied excitedly, “That’s good.”

I explained I had many years of experience thinking of comebacks. Yet, this wasn’t the first time my son had experienced prejudice. At eight, he had his first bout with it as I described in this post. At the time, he didn’t seemed phased, but he admitted this week that he had held onto that memory as well.

As we talked further, he felt better. He realized that he was not alone, that his mother had grown up with the same, and that as author Eric Hoffer once said, “Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.”

I’ve spoken about some personal incidents of racism in this blog, but recently, I’ve been able to pinpoint some things for myself.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, my life was about assimilation. I wanted to be white. I wanted to blend in to the Appalachian human fabric and disappear. During those years in the South, those around me often reminded me that I was different, strange, or simply “not normal.”

My mother tried to console me when these things happened, but after time, I realized that she truly did not know how I felt. My father, on the other hand, did to some degree.  As a Puerto Rican whose English was heavily accented, he had endured his share of racism. We spoke some but rarely about it.

I have spent my life longing to “fit in” racially. In Virginia, I found my two closest friends, Katherine and Adrienne, strong Asian women. I have blogged on how they taught me a great deal about Asian culture, another crucial step in my development.

What they lacked was the experience of being raised in a family where one feels racially out of place. Enter my next step in development … meeting two adult contemporary Korean adoptees.

We are just learning more about one another. In the coming days, I hope to share with you the continuing maturation of the person I haven’t fully known … myself.

Trade Offs

It is February 2nd.  February isn’t the best month for me.  If you have followed me for a while, you know that today is the anniversary of my mother’s death.  In addition, the second most influential woman in my life, my mother’s mother, died on February 10th.

These two women have left an indelible mark on my life, although my life path hasn’t exactly followed theirs.

As a child in Tennessee, I had my grandmother just a short walk from my house. When I was lonely or had argued with my mother, I had only to make the short walk … where my grandmother would offer me my grandfather’s leftovers of country ham and biscuits. She would listen to me and let me sit with her at the kitchen table, or she would ask me to help her snap beans.

My son could use a grandparent next door. He is adjusting to yet another transition in schools. He has entered middle school, only two years after our big move to Wisconsin. He is a sweet boy, but he longs for acceptance. I know that longing. It was that longing that made me choose this life path unlike my mother’s … to live away from my hometown and family. Moving away meant that my children would go to school in a more racially diverse community, but it also meant that we would sacrifice the proximity of family.

This week, after a nice spell of having my husband home in a holiday holdover, he resumed his travels for work. It has struck both the boy and me very hard. Our family is fractured, and we’re both lonely. We miss family and the comfort we had in Virginia with friends we had spent ten years knowing … they were our family there.

We are building friendships in Wisconsin, but it will take another ten years to have what we once had. Perhaps someday we will be able to impulsively invite our friends over for dinner like we did in our Virginia days. Or we could drop in and have leftovers at a friend’s house.

As a mother, I want to see my son build lasting friendships. But lately, his desire for friends is wound up tightly with the dynamics of middle school, and he is having a hard time untangling his feelings. I listen, but I also do not want to risk alienating him from me. It’s a fine line. We are our family here. I cannot risk that loss.

However my mother did what a mother is supposed to do, she risked that loss. She watched as her child move away, and I know that it broke her heart to be so far from me and my sister.

In the loneliness of February 2001 with the excitement of the holidays behind her, she quietly slipped away. February is indeed a hard month …

Debbie Downer, Mother Needed

It was a rough day in the world of motherhood.

My husband was yet again out of town and had been for a while.  The girl woke with an earache.  The boy was dealing with a middle school transition.  The house decided that it needed more repairs and updates. I felt over extended.

As with many families in this country, we are far away from any support system.  I rely on a few friends, but I could really use family.  At the end my of frustrations, I decided to veg out, watch a little TV.  “Ah,” I thought, “Glee.”  This clip is from a recent episode where Rachel sees her birth mother again. The birth mother is trying to make things right for Rachel and for her newly adopted child.  Let’s just say, it was not what I was expecting.

More and more media are incorporating the adoptive mother and father.  The recent Kung Fu Panda movie also highlighted adoption with the main character not knowing his roots.  His crane father shows emotions my mother had.

I remember an instance that I wish I could take back.  I was a preteen and angry.  I wrote my mother a letter that said, “I wish you had never adopted me.” The hurt she felt cannot be erased.  That was surely a rough day in motherhood, one I cannot fully understand.

Today, I was wishing for my mother, not the one who gave birth to me, but my real one.

A snowy reunion

We were hit … hard. Snow drifts and crazy temps. In Wisconsin, that rarely constitutes a snow day. But today was our day.

I personally was very thankful for the extra time spent with my kids today. We were able to start the day with the four of us in our queen bed together. We all gazed at the white wonder outside. Once the moment was over, it was time for friends. Phone calls and arrangements. All in our house to keep the activity around.

Today was not only groundhog’s day or a snow day, it was the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death. The snow reminded me of the story of the little match girl. As a young girl my mother played this tragic figure in a play. She told me she was cast because of her red curls.

The Little Match Girl is one of my daughter’s favorite story books. It was also owned by my mother. In it, a young girl must sell her matches on the street as a snow storm brews. She lights one, then another to keep warm. Eventually, she freezes to death but is taken up to be with her deceased and beloved grandmother.

My girl has never known her grandmother, and I think she feels a connection through this book. She feels the tragedy of never having known her grandmother, but also wishes for that opportunity to see her in another lifetime.

The snow did not bring death today like it does in the story. Instead, it brought back lovely memories of snow days in Tennessee. My mother baking. Her inventive sleds of black trash bags and cardboard boxes. The photos she took of my sister and I dressed in multiple layers and sporting red cheeks and smiles.

For the last month, I had dreaded today. And yet, today was a day of happiness, filled with the joy of being a mother, my mother.

Eerie echos

Sweaty palms, butterflies. It’s 1984. I am waiting for Mr. Anders, our biology teacher, to call out the first name. He always returned tests in the order of best grade to worst. I want so badly to be the first name. He says that the highest grade was a ninety-nine and a half. And then he says it … my name!

Elation is quickly replaced by personal disappointment at the small mistake I made that took that half point away. I’d studied. I took mental pictures of all the diagrams and my notes, but I missed that minute nuance.

Today, I read an article about Chinese mothers. Amy Chua has written a book about the parenting contrast between Eastern parents and Western parents. I find it all quite intriguing and am thankful for my Western upbringing.

But the most troubling part for me was identifying with the children and knowing the need to excel no matter what.  The need to have that perfect 100. I had that need, and it was not prompted by my Western parents. They were always full of praise.

Is the drive innate? My parents did not push me. But I pushed myself and see elements of it in my parenting of my children. Am I the Asian mother described by Chua?

I have wanted my children to take piano, but mainly because I was never afforded the opportunity. I allowed my son to quit at 7. My daughter now struggles, but I am holding steadfast in having her continue. I have watched silently as my son chose the violin for his strings class (then silently felt a victory).

Additionally, I have overreacted at lesser grades and bought workbooks for my children or designed homework when they didn’t have any. I want them to want what I so badly wanted at their age.

Now, I’m struggling. Is what I want bad for my children? Am I becoming the Asian mother? Is there a balance that meshes the best of both?

Can I get a 100 in parenting?

Back to normal

Welcome 2011! Although, I must admit that 2011 still feels like 1977. A few days before school let out, my daughter came home saying that she wished she could have “wide eyes.”

My heart contracted in anxious pain, and my mind went reeling back to 1977. Kids surrounded me as I tried to leave my new school in rural East Tennessee. Taller kids, big mocking faces and chants of “Me Chinese. Me play joke …”

Before we had children, my husband and I discussed my hometown and my childhood experiences. We decided that once we had children, we would only live in places that were ethnically diverse. Madison is just that. So, I found it quite shocking that we would be dealing with this issue here.

As I’ve posted before, my daughter is struggling with her own ethnic identity. Of our two children, she is the one who looks less Asian. When we asked her why she wanted “wider eyes,” her response was “Because then, I would be normal like my friends.”

“Normal” is a word that creeps into my blog often (Mistaken Identity). To hear my daughter say it, not only showed her painful need for acceptance, but also brought back my old, childhood insecurities.

As a parent, I want to protect her. But life is filled with the need to be accepted and the need to conform. So now, I must pull out my best mommy advice from my mother’s guide to life.

“Your uniqueness sets you apart. Rejoice in that.”

Oh! To be adopted!

Today, I took my daughter to a friend’s home for a music demo. The neighborhood is a very eclectic mix of people. Many different races were represented there. Couples with babies and toddlers, and mothers with school-aged children, all sat together listening.

One Asian mother sat criss-cross applesauce with her Asian toddler comfortably sitting in her donut-hole lap. My daughter kept focused on this mother and her daughter.

I’ve grown increasingly worried that my daughter feels as though she has no roots. Being of mixed race seems to be a curse, rather than a blessing to her. She is neither fully Asian nor fully Caucasian. I secretly envy her. She got the best features of each.

During the recent Winter Olympics, we watched intently as Kim Yu Na won her gold medal. I said to my children that she was Korean and told them that this brought a great honor to the people of South Korea. My daughter asked why I had told them this. I said, “Well, you are Korean.”

Her response? A quizzical “I am?!?!?”

In the following days, she asked me to wear my hair in a bun and act like Kim Yu Na. “Learn more Korean and teach me,” she would say. One day, I put my hair in a bun and suggested that I could do the same for her. She said, “I don’t want a bun because I’m not really Korean.”

It seemed she was struggling as much as I had with her ethnic identity.

So today after taking in this group of diverse ethnicity, my daughter, who resembles her English father more, leaned over and whispered in an excited voice, “I look like I’m the one adopted!”

And now, the word takes on a life of its own.