June 21, 2012 § 5 Comments
I have an uneasy relationship with my mother.
Perhaps this is true of many people, but among my close friends, I always seemed like the odd one out. I envy the people whose mothers are their confidante or close friend or basically anything that doesn’t involve disapproval 90% of the time and indifference the other 10. I’ve tried confiding my romantic interests in her ever since the first crush, but she usually manages to use that information against me (“He’ll never like someone like you,” “You’re not allowed to date,” “He’s not good enough by my standards and I don’t care what you think,” etc.), so I put an end to that just this week.
Recently, I figured that 99% of the criticism toward me in my life has been from my mother. I think that’s the main reason why I take criticism very poorly, especially from female teachers/professors. Even the most neutral constructive criticism from an older woman can feel like a personal attack, because that’s basically what I’m used to. It sounds harsh, but most of my friends who have grown up with me know how scared I am of my mother. (It’s weird because at approximately 5’1, my mother is the shortest person in our family, yet I’ve learned that usually short women are the feisty ones.)
I don’t know when it started. Perhaps it was after my brother was born. (I was 7.) Perhaps it was after I entered middle school and it became clear that I wasn’t going to reach my mother’s expectations, a shortcoming she has frequently reminded me of. There have been so many emotionally destructive instances over the years that when my mother actually acknowledges my wish to be a writer and urges me to write some kind of memoir, I just chuckle wryly to myself and think, yes, but I wouldn’t allow it to be published until after you pass, because you’ll probably be horrified by my memories of you.
She brought up this memoir thing again last week, and after once again exhorting me to pitch something to Reader’s Digest or our local newspaper (“Do you think journalists only get paid to write about themselves?!” I asked), she said, “You know, if I had the time or ability to write well, I would do it, and I bet I could get published easily. I have a lot of life experiences to write about.”
And that made me pause. Yeah, I bet my mother, who grew up in communist China and immigrated to the U.S. 21 years ago, does have some interesting stories to tell. The sad thing is that I don’t know any of them, because we basically never talk. The majority of our exchanges, while I was a teen, were one-sided lectures. My mother’s not the kind of person to ask how I’m feeling. And in college, I only spoke to my parents once every few weeks, and though it’s slightly embarrassing to admit, those conversations only lasted 10 minutes or so. (It flabbergasts me that B talks to his parents on the phone for at least 30 minutes almost every day. I can’t even imagine doing that in person.)
I always thought to myself, well, we’ll get closer when I get older. When I have a job. When I’m successful. When I’m good enough. Then, maybe, we can talk. But what if it’s too late? The mother of a guy at church was in a horrible car collision last week that put her in a coma and required emergency brain surgery. She’s recovering well now, but life is just that fragile and unexpected. As a journalist, my goal is to tell other people’s stories — what if I never hear those of my mother? Her own mother died of lung cancer when I was 2.
It’s a pity that I never got to know my grandmother. I have one photo of her, which I keep on my bookshelf. She looks like a kind woman, and as the youngest of four girls, my mother was most likely as spoiled as anybody in the lurches of Mao’s Great Leap Forward could be. My mother always spoke fondly of her mother. I imagine that they were close, and I wonder if and when I’ll be able to experience that kind of relationship.
A friend once asked me if I have daddy issues because my father has traveled for work for as long as I can remember, around the world for maybe months at a time. I was surprised, because that was the first and only time anybody had brought it up. After thinking about it, my answer would be a resounding no. I’ve never been boy-crazier than the next girl, and I’ve had healthy, functional romantic relationships so far. I’ve always known that my father loves me. What I have is just the opposite: mommy issues.
For most of my life, I just wanted my mom to like me. It might seem like an exaggeration, but I rarely got any hint that she did. There are a few positive memories, such as her coming to my badminton games or taking me prom dress shopping, buried in the mountain of why aren’t you good enough why aren’t you good enough recollections. (At this point, you might be inclined to think that I enjoy victimizing myself a bit too much, and I might agree with you, but traumatic memories are hard to rewrite.)
It’s a bit tragic to admit, but one of my greatest fears is that I’ll turn out like my mother. (Pretty sure only deadbeat parents would enjoy hearing that.) Yet there are small things I’ve picked up that might not necessarily have originated from my mother, but make us alike nonetheless. For example, she has always liked painting her nails. I mean, she doesn’t do it to a crazy manicure addict’s degree, but she does like keeping a few bottles of pinks and reds around to decorate her toes. I remember being fascinated with her nail polish as a child, and once when playing with one, I accidentally dripped some onto the carpet. When she found out, she furiously forced me to kneel on the ground in the living room for an hour. (Never let it be said that my parents were particularly good at appropriate discipline.) So…yeah. There was that, but hey! Nail polish buddies!
We both have a thing for cats — she has a penchant for tigers because she was born in the year of the tiger, while I tend to like all cats in general, though she’s pretty much afraid of all animals (even hamsters) and I’m allergic to cats, so we could never actually have one. And she basically loves the color red just as much as I am obsessed with hot pink, so we share some kind of…inclination/loyalty toward bold colors? (I’m trying really hard here.)
When I peel back her scathing layers, my mother has a lot of qualities I would find cute or lovable if I weren’t so damn afraid of her all the time. I think it’s cute that she loves Jennifer Aniston movies. I think it’s cute that she inexplicably cheers for Lebron James (“I like him and I think he deserves a ring.” Uhh okay). I think it’s funny that she thinks 3D movies are “great.” (You mean money-grubbing and pointless??) I think it’s funny that now that she has a Facebook, she asks my brother and me for advice on things like tagging the photos she proudly posted. And I’ve always thought it was funny that she loves animal print and will sometimes wear clashing ones to church.
But I’m barely scratching the surface of who my mother is. And as this is (God willing) my last summer at home before I go off to NYC and find out more about who I am, I hope to find the courage to hear my mother’s stories while I still can. Today, on my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, I want to thank my mother for everything she’s given and done for me.