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my mom

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the wonderful moms out there! I personally feel that every day should be Mother’s Day, because it is without a doubt, the most difficult job in the world.

thank you to all of the moms

I’ve written on occasion about my dad on the blog, because that’s pretty easy to do. My dad was my pal when I was growing up because he was a big kid at heart – he still is. He’s also quite the character. I am, to be sure, my father’s daughter. Our relationship has been fairly constant throughout my life.

But my relationship with my mom is a different story. It has evolved over the years and we have both grown and changed in that time. It’s complex and I think that happens with mothers and daughters who are close and yet span different cultures, personalities, and ways of thinking.

mom at 18 (as a bride’s maid)

age 22

I love these glamorous photos of our parents from the 50s and 60s. I treasure them. When I was little I used to thumb through this collection of old photographs of my parents and other family members. That was another time, another place… far from me and disconnected from my reality. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I realized I was so much older than my mother in those photos. And it has always been evident to everyone that my mother is elegant and beautiful and I am a tomboy with no fashion sense.

posing with dad’s big catch (i’m the goofball on the left – my grandmother dressed me)

When I was a little girl, my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world to me. I adored her. When I was sick or scared or sad, she would pick me up and I would lay my head on her shoulder, my arms around her neck. Her arms were the safest place to be. Of course, I was fortunate enough to have two mothers: my mom and my maternal grandmother. The difference was that I could get away with ANYTHING with Grandma, whereas Mom could bring the smackdown at any time. And she did, because I was a very silly little girl. What I would come to understand in my adult years was the gift that my mom and grandmother gave me – the chance to witness such a loving and devoted relationship between a mother and a daughter.

christmas 1986 (mom and grandma)

People talk of teenage years and I remember mine well. These were not my happiest years. I was exerting my independence – I was confident, even cocky. Dad had taught me to move assertively through the world. He was quite western in his thinking for a Chinese immigrant father. Mom was more of the traditional Chinese mother and that is where we butted heads. Often. My 790 math score on the SATs was like a knife in her heart, “WHY? Why can’t you JUST.GET.IT.RIGHT?!” I defiantly played field hockey despite cries that it would cost me college admissions to ANYWHERE. In our day-to-day exchanges, I intentionally challenged my mom just to be confrontational. It was clear that we were very different personalities and I didn’t always think her way was the right way. She would get angry with me and I would get angry with her. I was a pain in the ass. And despite all of my belligerence, there were moments when she would be proud of me or happy with me and say, “JenJen, you will always be my baby.”

mom and dad going to a cocktail party in 1989 (my senior year in high school)

dancing over the holidays when i was home from school

Leaving for college across the country was a good thing. There were more struggles between my desire for independence and Mom’s desire to tell me what to do with my life – very much a cultural tug-of-war. I could not see it then, but now I know that my mom has only ever wanted what she thought was best for me. Whether or not it was the best for me is not the point. After my sister died, after I could see through the fog of my own grief, I watched my mom walk through life with a broken heart for several years. I do not have nor do I want children, but I can’t imagine something more devastating for a mother than to lose her child. We are a close family and Kris was an integral part of the jokes, the tears, the yelling, the laughter, the joy. That was when I began to understand my mom for the woman she is rather than the mother she had been to me all my life – two very different roles.

mom and dad in 2005

in rocky mountain national park

getting gelato in whistler

My cancer diagnosis came as a shock to me, but once I gathered my wits I said to Jeremy, “How am I going to tell my mom?” I did not want to do this to her, not after the grief she was still enduring over Kris. I wanted to protect my mom, but I needed to prepare her just in case. So when I told her over the phone that my results were positive for breast cancer, all I could hear was the quiet sound of Mom taking in a breath. Then came the questions and it was obvious that she was trying desperately to understand and cope. That phone call feels like it took place ages ago.

It is my hope that I have learned to be a better daughter over the years and not just because that is what I am supposed to do, but because I really love my mom. I started out very attached to my mother, as I think most children do. During my adolescence there was a clash of personalities and I was resistant to the traditional Chinese ways of doing things which probably hurt my mom’s feelings. It was my independence against her desire to have a say in my life. Adulthood is good for us on many levels, not least of which is to appreciate your parents as individuals and not as parents per se. There (hopefully) comes a point in your life when you finally see your mother for all of her flaws and weaknesses, strengths and vulnerabilities, struggles and triumphs, that make her more human and more precious than ever. And there is nothing like the squeeze of my mom’s arms around my waist when she tells me I will always be her baby.

happy mother’s day, mom. i love you. -jenjen

26 nibbles at “my mom”

  1. Julia says:

    Thank you for making me cry. I had some of the same arc in my relationship with my Korean Mom though our relationship still has its ambiguities.

  2. Kristin says:

    I will be very proud if my daughter turns out anything like you. Lovely post.

  3. Lisa says:

    Thanks for posting such a moving post today to celebrate Mother’s Day for all Moms. All children will be their mother’s baby even when they are seventy or eighty years old. To all Mothers, Happy Mother’s Day.

  4. Jen says:

    I love the honesty of this post. I was incredibly close to my mother and and am sad every day that she isn’t here. BUT, that does not mean that it was always an easy relationship or that it was uncomplicated.

  5. colleen says:

    Love never dies, how fortunate you are to have each other.

  6. Eva @ Eva Bakes says:

    Thank you for writing this beautiful post, Jen. My mom wasn’t thrilled with my SAT scores either so I had to take my exam 3 times. She wanted me to take it a 4th time but I put my foot down. We have a similar relationship like you and your mom and I hope we continue to make our relationship stronger over the years. Happy mother’s day to all the moms!

  7. Lisa is the Boss says:

    Wow, I got all teary reading this post. You painted such a clear picture of the challenges in your relationship that I can see both sides and feel the frustrations each of you, I’m sure, were feeling. But I know how much you love each other (I’ve seen it in person) and its so sweet and such a nice “ending” to the story of growing up. Your mom is a wonderful lady. Please wish her a Happy Mothers Day from Lisa is the Boss!

  8. Mary says:

    This is beautiful. A Chinese saying: tiger mom wants her child to be a dragon! But motherly love always accept what her child wants to be. Happy Mother’s Day!

  9. selina says:

    Jen, you have such a way to write the words I want to say but can never figure out how to. I feel exactly the same way about my mom. Our daughter-mother relationship has been a journey, one of the best ones in life.

    She has always told me that she wishes I could go back into her tummy so I can be her baby again and she can protect me from everything that’s hard in life. I used to think that’s SO silly as it’s SO impossible. I get it now though. When she tells me that these days, I tell her I will always be her baby. :) xo

  10. Tarable says:

    Love this and love you. Thanks for making me cry.

    And happy Mother’s day to you, my friend! Kaweah couldn’t ask for a better mom…

  11. Collette says:

    This is really beautiful and made me cry. Such an honest depiction of the struggle between mother and daughter. I too went through a version of it with my mother and wonder what this will look like between my son and I. The love you feel for her comes shining through. Thank you.

  12. farmerpam says:

    Touching post, I’m crying. I’m grateful to have matured enough to appreciate my Mom, thanks for sharing.

  13. cherie says:

    as a mother and a daughter all I can say is thank you for sharing, it’s a beautiful post and your mother is fortunate that you have reached a better understanding of her

  14. Linda Butwinick says:

    I am so moved. As a 63 year old Mom of 3, I relate. I had a love – hate relationship my mom, my daughter had the same and struggle with me. My daughter and I have a great relationship now , I lost my mother before we could fix ours.
    You wrote beautifully about your mother, she is fortunate to have you.

  15. Natasha says:

    What a touching and moving story, thank u,Jen. Your Mother is such an elegant and beautiful lady.

  16. Liz N. says:

    Another teary eyed post Jen. I love your tribute to your mom. I read this and felt like you were describing my relationship with my mother! I was a pain in the ass and I wonder how my mom survived those teen/early adult years with me. Now that I am a mom to a 6 year old girl, I find myself scratching my head the same way my mom did with me. Thanks for sharing this vulnerable post! I cried a few tears!

  17. M. K. says:

    Your story is such an elegantly-crafted Mother’s Day gift to us all, Jen. As I wipe tears from my eyes, I recall sitting near my 96-year-old Mother on her death bed when she ordered me to “stop twitching”! She was feisty to the end, but as I aged I did come to appreciate her journey and much of what went into shaping her often rough-edged personality. Of course the hardest traits to accept are those nasty bits that turn up in my behaviour from time-to-time, but I always knew that I was loved and that carries one through it all, doesn’t it?

  18. Sandhya says:

    Jen..I have been a silent visitor of your blog. This mother’s day post moved me so much that I could not leave this page without leaving a comment. This tribute bought tears to my eyes. I lost my mother last year and miss her so much like never before. I have been a trouble kid as well during adulthood, preferred my own ways of doing things, but I always loved her. I treasure the last couple of days I got to spend with her last year before she lost her battle to cancer. Lovely post and Thank you! Your mom is so beautiful!

  19. zingara says:

    just like the others who’ve commented on this post, I am crying. the good cry. there are many things that I regret but many that I cherish. life is never easy when two generations clash. you don’t have to be chinese to experience the “mother-daughter tug-o-war”! my mother was italian & just as rigid as any asian mother ever was. but as shakespeare told us, “all’s well that ends well”. I love everything about you…marianne

  20. Mrs Ergül says:

    Thank you for sharing with us something so close to your heart. My mother is the pillar of strength in our family. I can never imagine life without her.

  21. Jill Hyde says:

    What a beautiful post. I’m envious of people who have loving strong relationships with their mom. Mine died when I was in my 20s, and I was just beginning to realize how much fun we could have. Thanks for sharing.

  22. angelitacarmelita says:

    You’ve beautifully put into words, how a lot of us feel about our parents, in the most eloquent and honest way. Thank you for sharing yet another facet of you w/us, your friends and readers.

  23. jenyu says:

    Julia – I’m sure it does (my relationship with my mom is not perfect, but it’s always evolving). Maybe we can all learn from each other :)

    Kristin – you are too too kind, my dear. Sounds like your daughter is going to be amazing if she’s anything like you.

    Lisa – love you, Mom <3

    Jen - absolutely. I think that is partly the definition of a mother-daughter relationship. I'm glad you could forge such a good relationship with her when she was with you xo

    colleen - thank you xo

    Eva - that's the best attitude to have, to keep the future in mind and continue to improve and grow together.

    Lisa is the Boss - I love you, Lisa! xoxo

    Mary - I've never heard that saying before, but it is so true!

    selina - you and your mother are so wonderful. Anyone could tell how much she loves you and how proud she is of you from the way she beamed during your wedding weekend! xo

    Tarable - thank you, sweetie :) I'm sure Kaweah wishes I'd let her roll in more poop!

    Collette - you're very kind. I think being aware of the relationship is halfway to having a good one. Of course, daughters and sons give different kinds of stress to their moms! :)

    farmerpam - :)

    cherie - I think we're both fortunate for my enlightenment ;)

    Linda - I hope you and your daughter will continue to love and grow together xo

    Natasha - isn't she? I always thought so (except when I got yelled at!) :)

    Liz - awww, thanks.

    M.K. - this is so true, although I have a lot more traits from my dad than my mom. Still, my mother has probably taught me some of the best parts of who I am because she has a kind heart and compassion for those less fortunate. Just like my beloved grandma, everyone loves my mom :)

    Sandhya - I am so sorry. That must be so difficult. My MIL has often told me how she felt like an orphan when her mother died. I imagine it must be a lost feeling, but I am glad that you were with her. I think that is important xo

    zingara - xxoo

    Mrs. Ergül - you're mom is awesome :)

    Jill - big hug to you, my friend.

    angelitacarmelita - thank you.

  24. Margie says:

    What a beautiful post. You were so honest with your feelings. Your mother’s heart surely sang(and wept), as she read this post.

  25. TJ says:

    It was nice to see another side of you Jen, an honest and beautifully written story of your mom and your family really moved me. I was smiling to myself when your mom said ‘Why can’t you just get it right?” when you scored 790 on your SAT’s… (my parents and I are from Korea, we immigrated to Canada when I was 13…. my parents were a lot more lenient with me since I was the youngest and I was always the good kid, always getting straight A’s. I remember, I secretly wanted them to rebel against them by skipping classes and do poorly on exams so that they can scold me….hehe). I had the pleasure of meeting your parents for lunch when I was visiting Auntie Jane with my friend Tanwei (not sure if you know her, she was just in Beijing visiting), so this story of them reminded me of how nice your parents were! And yes, I did sense the tiger side of your mom which I adored.. hehe thanks again sharing your story with us! visit Beijing with your parents when you get a chance, I’ll take you all on a culinary tour around BJ

  26. Tina says:

    This was a very touching post, I can relate a little being Asian Canadian. The teachings our mothers gives us are priceless treasures. Even as I am growing up and relating to her more, it is still hard to connect coming from different cultures and very different generations. I am very happy to have read this entry, a mother’s love and sacriface is like no other.

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