For My Mother

There are no wedding pictures on the walls of my family home. More accurately, they don’t exist. I’ve never seen a marital-related item belonging to my immediate family. I often wonder if that is why I so desperately long to get married at the pre-ripe age of 24. In fact, I grew up knowing nothing about my family; we have always been unnecessarily secretive. My brothers and I — maybe we intuitively developed a sense to not ask questions. So we never did.

My mother and I recently interacted with a reporter for a story he was writing on a Korean tradition of bestowing gifts to their parents upon “making it” in the real world. As all good reporters should, he asked questions — deeper ones: “Why is your last name different from your mother’s?”

I say this now because my family is slowly learning to break down the walls we have built between us and others, as well as the walls that were among us within our family. This is our story.

Whenever I think of my mother, I cannot help but cry. Mind you: I’m obnoxiously tomboyish and stubbornly fierce, but it doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing. Nothing wells up giant tears in my eyes than thoughts of her.

My family has always done a great job of pretending like we’re something we’re not. That includes telling the world we’re all genetically-related when in reality we are two families conjoined. Many, many people who have known us for decades would be surprised to learn that my mother is not my real mother.

We’ve withheld and weaved our way around this piece of information since I was born. For her, she was afraid that people would look at me and my brother and say “they misbehave because they’re just stepchildren.” Always, since the beginning, she only thought of us.

My mother came into our lives because her own experiences taught her that children like us needed someone to love them. We needed a proper maternal figure who could take away the deeply-rooted hurt caused by a neglectful one. She was right. But she did more than just decide to become our mother. She gave up all of her wealth, friends, fame, and health to see us grow up well. She lost everything and gained nothing to embody love.

It baffles me. How could this woman gain nothing but suffering for children who are not even her own? How could she become so sick that she lost all her teeth, have blood sugar spikes of 300, work 12 hours every day of her life, serve the church, and still say she loves us? When individuals seeking parenthood adopt, they do so with an active desire and autonomy of choice to pick the child they want. This woman did not have that luxury. She saw a need and she fulfilled it, not because we were her choice, but because we needed to feel what overflowing love and grace felt like.

Maturing is hard. You learn to deal with your family’s pain and sift through the darkness to hold on to the reins that tie your loved ones together. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must have been for my eldest brother as well. On top of all that she has already lost in place of my gain, I wonder about the wedding dress that she never got to wear. Every woman’s dream is to wear one — yet she still continues to dream, not for herself, but for me. She worries and nags that I must pick the right man who will make me and my children happy. She says it doesn’t matter where I do the wedding as long as it is with the people I love.

I will be happy for you Mom; I will be happy for all the years you weren’t. Your sacrifices will not have been in vain.

It is true that I am a product of pain and hate. Maybe that is why I am always filled with so much anger and emptiness that I don’t even know what to do with myself. Still, I am happy to say I am changing — and rapidly at that. I grow more and more each day because of her. Because she teaches me that it is never too late to love wholeheartedly, and no matter how much I convince myself otherwise, I too deserve to be loved. Everyone says their own mother is amazing, but mine truly has done more than any woman ever could have. It is easy to love the child that came out of you: the child whose heart beats your blood. I reckon it is incredibly hard to unconditionally love ones that don’t — but also cause you immense grief and pain. From being terrified for our family’s safety after my brother’s shooting to trying to cope with the thought that her only daughter may return to her “real” mother one day, she has bowed her head in humble humility and endured with grace.

Mom, I will never leave you. I will always be by your side.

When I spoke with that New York Times reporter, he paused for a second before saying, “I can see why you treat her so well.” My relationship with my mother has never been so simple that it was solely a sense of filial piety. I give her all that I can because I am now old enough to recognize her struggle as a fellow woman. My heart aches for her. My heart lives for her.

Happy 51st birthday to the one and only mother I have ever known.

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