When my mom was 19-years old she came to America. She knew not one person but my father, she could barely speak English, and she came so that her someday children could live a life of opportunity. She succeeded. My imagination and adventurous spirit come directly from her. For so long I wish I had a different relationship with my Mom…but not any longer. I wish every person in the world had the chance to sit down and talk to my Mom, she would help you see the world is big, and wild, and free. I love you Mom. Though I wish this letter was filled with joy, unlike a few years ago, it is no longer filled with regret. It’s filled with hope. And honesty. For me. And you. And moms and daughters everywhere who wished it could have been different…it can’t. It’s perfect as is. I cried a whole lot when I wrote this letter, but my Mom wouldn’t want me to do that, she’d want me to dust myself off and find the next adventure. I am proud to be my mothers daughter.
I’m going to send you this letter but I’m not sure you will ever read it, but my intention in writing to you today is to say thank you for being the best possible mom you could be.
Mom you raised 2-daughters in a completely foreign land from what you knew. You did the best you could, and mom, you did such a good job. When you were my age, I was 5, and I was already making you feel like you were not good enough to be my mom. You didn’t sound like other moms, and you didn’t dress like other moms, and I didn’t want to wear my korean dresses or go to korean language school. My sister J and I would pretend to fall asleep on the way to class so we wouldn’t have to go, you would tell me this years later and I would see the look of disappointment on your face as you did. You worked so hard, blue-collar work that I was ashamed of. For a while you worked in a factory, and for a few years you worked every Friday night at a fish market, one Friday as I was sitting at the kitchen table eating the french fries you had brought home and you told me how that night the market had been robbed. And that you had to lay on the floor and how you were scared. You still brought me french fries home that night like you did every single Friday, and though you told me more than a mom should perhaps tell a 7-year old, I grew increasingly worried about you and so would begin our constant push-pull relationship. From then on I would sit by the window and wait for you to come home safely on Fridays, when I saw your car pull up I would run back upstairs to my room so you wouldn’t know I was looking out for you.
You always told me I loved you more than anyone else, and I became determined to never let you down. Life grew increasingly challenging for you and Dad, and you became more and more angry, I never knew how I would find you, angry, happy, sad, stoic…and so became that I never stopped searching for you. Moments when you would laugh so hard and completely light up were like my flashlight. And I knew you were in there somewhere.
J went off to California and you informed me in a tone both sad and heavy with regret that it was only a matter of time before I left too so that I mine as well go now. I couldn’t understand it then but you were just trying to protect yourself from more leaving. You could not see that J was living her own life and her moving to California to become a teacher, to marry the man of her dreams, and have 2-beautiful children was such an amazing path to take. You decided that she left and it would be a dynamic that still plays out confusing and awkward to this day.
Dad’s job would take him to North Carolina and after years of him going back and forth from NC to NY you would finally go too. You and Dad would sit me down one day last spring to tell me you were leaving, and steady tears would come down my face, but not one single word. I would be overwhelmed with how it had become that I was the only one left. I had inherited your greatest fear and I was feeling now, left behind. You looked at me the way mothers do when their children are hurt, but I knew you absolutely had to go, and shortly after I would get an opportunity for a dream job that would take me to Buffalo. And since you were already gone it made it so much easier to say yes. You cleared the space for me to say yes.
In the past few years I realize now that so much of my strength comes from you. I know the way I know the sky is blue that if I had been raised by any other woman on this planet, I would not be who I am today. You have hidden your past entirely, you speak of no family, I know intuitively that whatever happened to you is too painful for you to ever say out-loud, and I want you to know that I am here for you if you ever want to set yourself free from your past. I cannot try to set you free any longer, you must do that on your own. I want you to know that “you are not what happened. you are what you choose to become.” This quote has offered me such solace, as I know I will raise my children differently from how I was raised, but not cause you were wrong Mom, but because you did the best you could. And in the beauty that is generations and lifetimes I get the chance to do it even better, and I will. I know that in my own experience of not knowing so much of my heritage and past, that this cultivated a deep deep sense of inquiry in me, and the curiosity that led me into adventures as a kid, leads me still today. I know now that all the years of having to pretend nothing was wrong and told to be quiet led me into a path in which I get to inspire people to have a voice, and I feel so strongly that every person should be heard, and this motivates everything I do. I want to see the world Mom, and ask every single person in the world the same question, “tell me, what do you plan to do with this one wild and precious life.” This is out of a poem by Mary Oliver called ‘The Summer Day‘ that I have read so many times over the years. I’m asking all sorts of amazing people this question now as a yoga teacher and I wont ever stop wondering. I am a woman in wonder and it’s because of you.
I know you are tired Mom. You have been playing charades your whole life, never quite letting anyone know who you are. You are angry. I believe this is because you have never felt truly heard, and you have never felt truly safe. When you go to speak you often times cry or yell, your mind has burdened your body, and you say now that you are weak and you feel old. I tell you not to say these things because I am scared of losing you, but what I need to understand is that in so many ways, you are already gone.
I want you to know Mom that you could come back. And when you do, please awaken to know that you have 2-daughters who love you so much, and who are living beautiful and brilliant lives and you have everything to do with it. Perhaps you will awaken and it will not be this lifetime in which you do…but I think you still got a shot at this lifetime Mom. I’m still rooting for you. My boundaries around us have gotten much healthier as a direct expression of my yoga practice, and my own deepened spirituality and mindfulness. I think this feels better for you too. We both have live to live, and choices to make.
I also want to let you know that your legacy to me is of a strong, courageous woman who fought hard for her daughters to have freedom and opportunity. A woman who showed me the grace of service and contribution, and the importance of always saying thank you. I am setting free the burdens, shame, disappointment, regret between us Mom. I set it free. I set you free from believing for a second that you could have done it better. You did it perfectly and I am who I am today because of you. I am so grateful for this life you have given me. I am so grateful for you.
And yes, I promise to one day find a husband and have some babies : ) I know you love Moose but he’s furry, and well, a dog, and he’s just not cutting it. But don’t worry it’s going to be an amazing year, I can just tell. I’ll send you postcards from Kenya and try to call you even though you have no clue what the heck Skype is, we’ll find a way. We always have. I love you with all my heart. You are an amazing woman Mom, the strongest woman I know.