In high school, I wrote a poem about my mother that was published by the Library of Congress. They sent it to me, screened on a plaque, with some information about where to find it online, along with thousands of other poems. Not a big deal.
Mom accidentally found the plaque and read it. For a week, she was upset with me. She yelled, gave me the silent treatment, yelled some more.
I had betrayed her.
How could you do this to me? Why would you tell people how horrible I am? Why do you want “outsiders” to know about our private lives? I guess you really hate me.
I became defensive and angry. I was also embarrassed and overcome with guilt. I locked the plaque away, somewhere dark, where it would never be seen again.
But the truth, we discovered – once we both calmed down – was that she did not understand the poem. She understood the words but not the message. I suspected that she wouldn’t, which was why I tried to keep it from her.
The words were meant to illustrate our tumultuous relationship, how we argued over everything and struggled to understand one another. At the closing, I allude to the fact that my mother’s inability to communicate with me made me resistant to hearing her wisdom.
She definitely didn’t get that.
Every second of my childhood and adolescence, I was pushed hard. I understood why, but there were times when I buckled under the pressure. If the smartest kid in school got one more award than me, she’d ask, What happened?
She expected me to excel in all things, whether that be household chores or mathematics.
She disciplined me with an iron fist, kept me under lock and key. She never coddled me. She never spoke the words “I love you.” She was solid, like a mountain, and just as cold at times.
But here is a woman who sacrificed everything so that I could live.
Here is a woman who grew up upper-middle-class and educated, forced to flee her beloved country, to scrape her knuckles to the bone for every morsel of food.
Here is a woman who made sure I never wanted. Whatever she could give, she has given.
How do you love a woman so hardened by life?
When she scolds you, though the words may be hurtful, listen. Recognize there is pain behind her voice, not true anger.
When she tells you about her hardships, really listen. It will guide you through the most challenging times, and nothing would make her happier than for you to know her story.
When she pushes you away, hold her closer and speak the words she cannot. It’s weird and uncomfortable at first. But in the end, what does it matter?
Forgive her anything.
After years of fighting, she is warmer now. The snow at the summit has thawed; the mountain passes have become less treacherous.
In short, if you have an Asian mother who loves you too fiercely and has an odd way of showing it, love her back just as fiercely.