Category Archives: Mothermade

Korea is my mother.

My husband recently came home obsessed with another woman.

He explained that she looked similar to me and had the same mannerisms. Every move I made was followed by a “Do you realize how Korean you are?”

This from the man who has lived with me for the last 17 years. He knows everything about me. And I feel at times we’re truly one person. But that day, he viewed me as a different person.  He had made a discovery.

That week, during his work trip, he had met a Korean American woman. He said he felt he had seen my twin. While she certainly did not have a Southern drawl, she did have my fastidiousness. And he felt her mannerisms mirrored mine.

This seemed to intrigue and disturb him all at once. I think he felt he knew everything about me: my upbringing in Tennessee, my Puerto Rican roots, my lack of interest in my biological background. But now, he had seen glimpses of my Korean heritage. Glimpses he felt I knew nothing about.

Sure, I do not know that much about Korea. But recently, my friends have been educating me on all things Asian. It has been a journey, but a personal one. All this time, I realized that I hadn’t shared my discoveries with him.

Once again, there is a reminder that I am not completely sure of who I am. I do know myself as a Korean-adopted Tennerican, but I do not know myself as a Korean.

I recently watched my first episode of the television program, Glee. In it, a young teen, raised by adoptive fathers finds her birth mother and longs for a relationship. The birth mother seems to sum up my quandary and says, “I’m your mother, not your Mom.”

Korea is my mother but not my Mom.

The loss of a mother

On another day in February, years ago, my mother sat. Tears welled up in her eyes. And we asked what was wrong.

That same day, years before, her mother and our grandmother had died. She kept the date of loss with her and remembered every year, while I only remembered when she started crying. At that time, my grandmother was the most significant loss I had experienced. And yet, I did not remember the date of her death. The loss of a parent is so much more significant.

This Sunday it was announced that someone had lost her mother. The daughter was merely an acquaintance. I had just recently started singing again, and we both sang first soprano in the church choir. But the news hit me hard. I began to cry silently.

So many times, people have asked me if I wanted to find my “real” mother. But my real mother was the woman who raised me.

She comforted me when I had lost my first love. She scrutinized my subsequent boyfriends. She protected me, sometimes too much. She cried when I flew to Africa with my new husband. And she rejoiced in the birth of my son. That is a mother … a real mother.

Today, I remember her death like it was yesterday. Just as she did every twenty-fourth of February. The pain is still the same, though on most days it is eclipsed by music lessons, school pick-ups, bedtime stories and such. But every February 2, I am reminded of the morning call in 2001.

It was my father. His voice had a restrained calm about it. And when he called, I knew. I cried that day as I cradled my little boy. I was clinging to the one thing of hers I had left … being a mother.

Yeah!

Today, as my children and I prepared for the school day, my son asked, “Mom, will you be coming on the fieldtrip tomorrow?” I said yes, and his response almost made me cry.

Some nine years ago, he climbed on the bus for kindergarten. He was tentative and gave me a big hug and kiss before he climbed on board. Within six months, I was told, “Can you kiss me at home before we walk to the bus stop?” My heart sank.

Now, he’s a fourth grader, and usually doesn’t want me to show affection toward him in public.

But today, he showed enthusiasm by answering “Yeah!”

I am mother. Hear me roar.

I am mother. Hear me roar!

A year ago, my son lost his most treasured possession, a small Gap Hopper simply named “Bunny” at the Nick Hotel in Orlando. And with Bunny’s disappearance, I realized that I had allowed my professional life to eclipse my family life.

At the end of our stay, I was too busy refining my course syllabus to make the final sweep of the hotel room. I had my first class meeting the next morning at 9 a.m.

Irreplaceable, Bunny continues to come up in conversation. “He won’t know where to find us when we move.” “He’s never seen Wisconsin.” Now, his younger, yet bigger cousin, Bunny #2 keeps vigil.

My mother struggled with her role as a stay-at-home mother. I remember her saying things like, “I just want to have something that is MINE,” or “I need a reason to get out of the house.”

Insensitive, I grew up telling her I would never marry, let alone have kids, and that I would live the hopping life of a New York journalist, driving my BMW and writing for the Rolling Stone. How that must have hurt her. She had spent her life making mine better.

When my son was born, I struggled with my immature feelings about being the young hot shot. But caring for him day to day became the most gratifying job I’d ever had. And when my mother died during my son’s eighth month of life, a part of me felt I should give him what she had given me. During the funeral, my sister told me that our mother felt that I had honored her by following in her footsteps. But the struggle was only suppressed.

I eventually became an adjunct professor, a freelancer and an AIGA board member in Virginia. But remember Bunny? Mommy took a back seat.

Recently our move to Wisconsin allowed me to step back and re-evaluate the past year. The loss of Bunny will forever remind me of my inadequacy in my position as mother.

I tell myself daily that will never occur again. My children are growing up, and each day brings a new revelation.

Last night at 1 a.m., my son came into our room. He was frantic. Bunny #2 was lost. We searched the entire house until 2:30. At which point, I could not sleep. Where could he be? We would not lose another Bunny. Not under my watch.

My search lead me to the dirty, snow-covered curb. Armed with a flashlight, in my pajamas, a coat and boots, I searched our recycle wheely bin. And half way down, Bunny #2 looked up at me as if to say, “Thank goodness! I wondered if you would come find me before the trash truck arrived!”

I am mother. Hear me roar!

Titter loves her little sister

Thirty-six years ago today, my life changed. At the time, I was six and very angry about this change. I had been the apple of my parents’ eyes.

Wrapped in a blue-green receiving blanket, something wiggled. The thought of something so small and living excited me. So, I hurried to unwrap it. “Where is it?! Where is it?!” I kept saying. And soon, it emerged from all the layers … my new little sister.

Again, at first I was excited, then angry, then frustrated. She took a lot of my mother’s time and energy. I began packing paper bags to run away. But most times, I would make it to the end of the snow-lined walk and turn around, saying, “I’ll wait until the weather warms up.”

When my mother died, we found many things that she had saved. There were two letters in which I wrote that I wished she hadn’t adopted me. Angry children become cruel. I regret that. My sister was one of the best gifts my parents could have given me. It just took me a while to appreciate it.

My sister soon grew and began talking. Her name for me was a form of sister but came out “Titter.” Six-years is quite a gap. And often, we were worlds apart. But as we became adults, the gap decreased.

She is now my best friend. And her daughter has become my daughter’s substitute little sister with an age gap similar to my sister and me.

So, today, I honor that little baby that changed my life. She’s a fine woman and mother. And our mother would be mighty proud.

A kiss of acceptance

I’ve been absent. We moved to Madison, Wisconsin, this past summer. And all is well.

During the search for schools, I made a point of looking at the ethnic make-up of each public elementary school. Having lived in a rural, almost Asian-free community, I wanted more for my kids.

Community of acceptance. I was seeking that and have been since I was very small. Luckily for me, my adoptive family’s love sustained me through my life in rural Tennessee. But I longed for complete acceptance. Even a sense that I was just like everyone else.

Yesterday at dinner, my children brought up a little adopted girl in my daughter’s class. This child is Asian and has become rather attached to my daughter and myself. My daughter wanted to know why this young girl was saying she wanted me to be her mother. I tried to explain that the little girl just wanted to identify with us because we look similar.

We also discussed how there were more Asians at this school than there were in the school in Virginia. In addition, we talked about the number of adopted children we had met. It has been refreshing seeing the unconditional love of parents here for their adopted children. It brings back such wonderful memories of my parents, and especially memories of my late mother.

Today, the little Asian girl in my daughter’s class watched as I gave her a kiss good-bye. And this little one asked if I could give her a kiss as well.

And so, I passed on the kiss of acceptance.

The Latino side

I don’t often write about my Latino side. Usually, I forget about it unless someone whom I have never met in the flesh reminds me with a casual “Hola” or “Hasta Luego”.

Last night on the eve of 2009, I was reminded of the prejudice against the Latino community.

Our town of Charlottesville has a First Night celebration every year. Various groups perform, and my son performed with his Taekwon-Do group. As a perk, the group was offered entry buttons for the participants. However, in a misunderstanding, the buttons were not delivered to the school before the event.

After the performance, our family accompanied my son’s instructor, the leader of the group, over to the registration area for First Night. The Taekwon-Do instructor is a young, Latino man. The executive director of the event informed the instructor that if he hadn’t gotten the buttons beforehand then they had none for him now. While that my have been true to some degree, she was unusually curt. I sensed that she felt that the instructor was trying to pull something. She kept giving him excuses and saying she was not authorized to give him buttons.

At this stage, I stepped forward and told her that our family had already bought buttons for the rest of us, but not for the two who had been promised buttons. She then said she would see what she could do. In the meantime, a more friendly volunteer coordinator walked over and tried to help as well.

The executive director did return with 25 buttons for our group. But I do wonder what motivated her at first to resist helping our young, Latino instructor. Was it doubt? Was it skepticism? Was it prejudice? While I will never know for sure, I did sense some of the indescribable feelings that I’ve had in my own small Tennessee hometown. Feelings my father expressed when he visited the very caucasian Colorado.

It’s a feeling of being outside of a group. A feeling of not belonging. A feeling of being excluded.