To My Mother

This is to you, the girl who grew up the third of eight girls, no boys, who took care of your younger sisters from childhood as everyone pitched in to raise one another. You never had your own things, perpetually trapped with hand-me-downs and handing things down. And so as a woman you turned around and spoiled the two of us each with our own set of toys and books, even buying us duplicate objects identical in every way but for the identifying stickers that marked either hearts- Anna’s or stars- Albert’s.

We took it all for granted, but that’s what children do. Everything is granted, as if nothing had ever been or could ever be any other way.

From the time I was 5, you started driving us to piano lessons week after week. And then it was soccer for Albert and ballet for me, and then violin and orchestra on top of it all. I never understood the price or the effort of these undertakings. I just blithely went along with it, having my share of fun and never quite taking lessons or practicing seriously enough.

Every single morning, even through my high school years, you woke up long before anyone else did and made me an overstuffed lunch bag and put out a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of milk on the kitchen table, a napkin placed over the milk so the fuzzy things wouldn’t float in from the air. I was that picky.

We were never one of those communicative all-American families I sometimes imagined growing up that hugged and kissed and told each other “I love you.” Between the emotional obfuscation, my academic overachievement, and those piano and violin lessons, you might even imagine that we were the stereotypical Asian American family and you a typical Asian mother, but you weren’t.

You taught me to take responsibility of my own life, refusing to take up my battles for me, but providing everything. And with that, you’ve granted me the freedom to live my own life. Sure, you might prod, and you might prefer that I do some things over others, but if I studied and practiced or didn’t study and practice, it was on my own volition, or at least you let me believe it was.

There are a lot of parents who would have been angry or destroyed by their girl abandoning the pre-med track for some self-invented major and later, some self-invented career. But somehow, you’ve stood through it and stood by me without a single guilt trip.

In fact, you’ve had to accept a lot of things in your life that haven’t turned out as you had expected or even as you hoped. I watched you step into your own self sufficiency after we left for college– self sufficiency, an idea lost for decades as you selflessly took care of us. And I’ve watched you through the most difficult times in your life, our lives. You’ve been left with no other option than to be strong and to be courageous, and you have been. You’ve let go of so many things that you treasure and you’ve worked so hard to get. And you work harder now than I’ve ever worked. You’ve made it through, day by day.

This is to you, my mother–¬†Happy Birthday. Without you I would not be here. I would not be who I am or know to do what I love. Thank you.

A couple weeks ago, up at Indian Rock in Berkeley: