Category Archives: nurture

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.

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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.

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.

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.