To Be Sons and Daughters

February 8, 2017
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Have you ever hated your mom or dad?

I did when I was younger.

In elementary school, I saw my mother as both my kind, caring mom and my greatest fear. One day I wanted to hug her, the next I was afraid to look at her face. I wanted badly to be her favorite child, but I grew frightened by her expectations and her always yelling “Mina.”

I would think to myself: What did I do this time?

See, I never really understood my mother as a kid. When I think back, she was more of a character in my childhood than a person; most times, she was the antagonist in my story.    

No, I wasn’t scared of her anger; I was scared of her disappointment, of her not loving me.

But that wasn’t all.

S.T.A.R. testing, MATHCOUNTS, and those terrible, nerve-wracking academic awards: They never worked out. My grades went up and down, I had no musical or athletic talents, and based on my report card, I wasn’t even advanced; I was proficient.  

To make it worse, my mother -- friends with the other proud Asian moms -- learned the names of every smart person in my grade and all their achievements: who got the best grades, who was in those “rigorous” programs, and who received a free bumper sticker, a certificate, and a pin for being “the best.”

She would always ask me, “Why wasn’t it you?”

I never did answer her questions because I couldn’t understand myself what I was doing wrong to make her feel this way. Didn’t my mom ever see me: my spaghetti arms and graphite-stained hands tired from solving too many of her worksheets? Didn’t she notice that I was being good, that I was trying? Wasn’t that enough?


Yet, my mom was not okay with someone being better than her daughter. Because to her and several other parents, their children are supposed to be the best. Their logic: if their child is number one in their eyes, then why aren’t they number one in everyone else’s eyes?

And so, naturally, I was frustrated at her. Our parents’ expectations, too high for people like us to reach, can be our ultimate downfall, and no matter how hard you try to please them, nothing will ever be good enough.

Her standards irked me. If I got a B on a test, she would ask, “Why didn’t you get an A?” If I got an A on a test, she’d ask, “Why didn’t you get an A+?” And if I got an A+, she would scoff and say, “It must have been easy. Everybody in your class probably got an A+.” Hearing this over and over again made me want to rip my hair out. I hated school, braggy moms, smart people who knew they were smart but pretended they weren’t and over exaggerated about their grades. And I began to dislike my mom.

More so, I grew annoyed with her because I thought she didn’t notice me as her daughter. I believed she only saw me as a number, a trophy she could brag about and present to all her friends. Yet, when my mother, although busy with her own worries, still remembered to focus on me, I never noticed. I only saw what I wanted to see, and I pushed aside the tiredness and stress in my mother’s eyes, telling myself that the victim in this family was me and not her.

When we love someone too deeply, our goal is to make them happy, and when we cannot reach that goal and all we do is disappoint, we are left feeling we are not enough for this person. We begin to think we are average and that we are useless, attaching onto their ankles like an anchor and dragging them down with us.
   And I hated my mother for making me feel this way while pitying myself and my childhood. 
   Yet here’s the thing.
   As a kid, our world is small. Our eyes only see ourselves, and our ears hear only what they want to hear. We think of ourselves as great kings and queens, and everyone around us are only supporting roles in our story; they are little, insignificant, and we are oblivious of our surroundings and aware of only ourselves. We matter the most.
   But when we grow older, we head face to face with the reality we are in and awaken with the realization that the people around us are not figurines or dolls; they are human beings with problems of their own, and they are fighting their own wars we are blind to. We see people in a different light -- people who we’ve despised our entire lives -- and find they are not the monsters we envisioned them to be.
   There is more than one side to a person and more to that person than we will ever know.
   My mother is a good example.

I remember her driving as fast as she could to make sure we could watch the Fourth of July fireworks, even though it was almost finished. I remember her trying her best to speak English because there hadn’t been a Korean translator available for one of my student-teacher conferences. I remember her crying near the laundry machine because her younger brother had yelled at her through the phone for not being able to attend her grandfather’s 80th birthday. I remember her curled up under the covers on the day of her dad-in-law’s funeral and my eyes diverting away from that sight of my mom and pretending not to see her.

My mom and I have both changed. After telling her about comparing me to other people, she tries not to do it anymore. She’s realized who her real friends are and who just wants people to brag to. She listens to me more, and I understand her better. My mother may be stone-cold serious at times, but she is also a honest, compassionate, humorous, and vulnerable human.

I hear friends and people close to me curse their parents and laugh it off. They say their dads are terrible and their mothers are annoying. But what they forget to see, just like you and me, is that most of our dads and their mothers sacrifice their time, their work, their dreams, and their lives for us.

We cannot forget to cherish our parents. We need to thank them: for putting us first, for the lunches they packed when we were kids, for listening to what we have to say, for telling us they loved us.

Yes, there are days when our parents argue and fight with us, and yes, there are times when they don’t listen to a word we say, but we are lucky to be loved. And instead of stomping over the love we get, we should appreciate it while we can. We may be students with a future ahead of us, but we must first learn how to be sons and daughters.

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