Mother, May I?
I’ve spent some time at home now with my mother and sisters. It’s been a wonderful time. Utah never really seems like home, but seeing my mother is maybe the one thing that keeps me coming back to the same place time and time again—which is something I don’t often do. I recently had a boyfriend who lived in Utah, but now we are just friends and that’s okay and—Well, actually this post isn’t about that. This post is about my mother and how she amazes me more and more every day. And this isn’t some generic, “My mother is the #1 mother in the world,” post… This is a “I look at my mother, how she has changed, how she has grown, and I only hope that I can be as graceful through the ups (and especially the downs) as she has been,” post.
And it all started with a fight. My mother has recently met a man. I have already experienced one parent dating and marrying someone else. My father’s second marriage ultimately took away any hope left I had of my parents somehow patching things up. And if my father hadn’t remarried, I would still have little drops of hope to one day see what it looked like to see my father hold my mother’s hand. But, he remarried. And I adjusted accordingly. I don’t know how “normal” it is to me now. I don’t see them often, so when it is strange, it is not very strange for too long. I admit, it’s strange to see my father affectionate: holding hands, kissing, singing. But despite the mess of the last five years, it makes me happy to see him happy. It's important to me to see him happy, and I owe that to his new wife. She is kind, and I like her.
Now with my mother, it’s a little different. Her seeing another man does not take away hope of rekindling her first relationship with my father. And it was strange to see an older man in the house here and there. My parents were not very social to begin with, so having guests of their own is strange in general. Still, I was polite. It was interesting to see my mother all googly-eyed. She cooked him her best dishes. She talked about him all of the time. She was head over heels.
And I was worried.
Although I did not come straight out and say it, my mother knew. Finally, like the woman she is, she confronted me. Phrases like, “Is he good to you?” and “Does he like you as much as you like him?” or “Does he care about you really?” came out of my mouth like a dam that had been broken.
And it hurt my mother.
And she looked at me and said, “How have I treated the men you bring home to meet me?”
And I thought back…
My first boyfriend, ultimately a Utah boy as well, came over. I was so infatuated, I forgot to eat when he was around (and we hung out all day!). She would put snacks in my hand as I ran out the door to go see him to make sure I kept eating. My mother spoke with him about life, she invited him into the kitchen, she let me go out at night… And my parents never gave me a curfew. The rule at my house was, “Let us know where you are going. Check in when you feel the need. Let us know if it’s going to be extra late.” Complete and utter trust. In fact, I had forgotten curfews even existed with other parents until I came back to Utah recently and listened to my little sister’s friends say they needed to leave because of their “Gosh darned curfew.”
My second boyfriend flew over from Hawaii before we had even started dating. He had called me and said, “I can’t wait until Christmas break is over. Can I come and see you now?” And I assured him it would be fine. I remember telling my mother, “Mom. There is a boy from college. He is coming to visit for a few days. Is that okay?” She smiled. She asked if he was my boyfriend. I said no. And she said, “I’ll get the sheets out and you can set up the guest room for him.” Jordan flew over and asked me to be his girlfriend on the last day of his stay at our house. My mother welcomed him with open arms. She fed him and gave him everything he needed despite how little she knew of him. She knew I knew him, and she knew I cared about him. That was enough for her.
My third boyfriend—my most recent boyfriend. I guess I should be calling all of these guys exes. I'm not really used to that. Anyway, after our first date, I talked to my mother about him. She had missed when he came to pick me up because of yoga. I told her about our date, giggling and happy. I remember laying in bed with her, taking deep sighs trying to calm down but I was too excited about this one. She told me she wanted to meet him and to invite him over. Some may think it’s strange to meet the mom the second night of knowing someone, but it seemed natural to me because… Well, that’s how my mother is. Mr. Merrick happily agreed. That night, my mother had talked to him in our living room. She sat on the couch and asked what he did when he was angry. She asked him about nutrition. And at one point, somehow he was in down dog on the carpet and my mother laughed and winked at me. After my mother met him and he left for the night, my mother and I snuggled up in her bed for more girl talk.
“I like him. He’s smart. He’s kind and shows respect. He seems to like you. And… You really like him. And he’s tall. We need some height in this family,” she winked. “Bring him over any time. Maybe he can come for dinner next week? I’ll make him Korean food, and we can see if he can handle weird looking and spicy foods.” She always thought I would be first to get married, and for some reason…Unlike all of my friends… She took my boyfriends as seriously as I did. And I always appreciated that. I never casually dated. I never “had fun” with a few guys here and there. I just found the ones that I thought were special, and I fell in love…googly-eyed and all.
Back to my fight with my mother, I sat there realizing she had accepted every man I had brought home with open and loving arms.
“I trust you, and I see you in love, Jade. And nothing makes me happier.”
“…I know.” My mother was entirely right, and I felt terrible. “I shouldn’t have said those things. I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Maybe I’m wrong about this guy,” she said, “But maybe not. And look at you: you were wrong. But that’s all a part of love and growing up.”
I realized I had been going through a hard time. I had been hurting. I had been healing. I had seen my mother hurt. It had taken a lot of healing. I didn’t want to see that again. I don’t know if I could bear it. Give me 1,000 heartbreaks, but don’t break the heart of someone I love. Not my sisters, and please dear God, not my mother.
“Jade. I have to learned to trust my heart again. And I really do trust it. And now, I know it’s not easy, but you have to trust it too.”
“I’ll try. I’m just scared for you.”
“Are you scared for you?” she asked.
“No, just you.”
“Well, who’s the one with the boyfriend and who’s the one with the broken heart?” she laughed. “Jade. My divorce was this.” My mother cupped her hands together. I looked at the space in her soft tan hands. I saw the divorce. Five whole years. Tears. Regrets. A broken heart. A broken family. “And this Jade, is life.” My mother opened up her hands and arms, stretching her limbs as far as the could go around her and opening them up to the sky. “Life is big, Jade. Life and love and growing. It is so big. Even a divorce like mine is so small in compared to all of life.”
And I looked at my mother, the woman who had moved from South Korean when she was only 26 without knowing a word of English. She had six children and started from the bottom up: she may or may not have hid me under the counter with a candy while she handled the register at JC Penny’s. She went through a horrifying divorce (and I say horrifying because there is no divorce that isn’t), and what did she do? She learned how to swim. My mother was 52 at the time, and THAT’s when she decided to take up swimming lessons. And then she took up golf lessons. And then she took yoga and pilate classes. She whipped out her old Korean-to-English dictionary and read everything from the Twilight Series to “What Happy People Know.” She signed up for college classes at our local university (her favorite class is Eastern Philosophy) and she stops by every other Wednesday for ping pong on campus. She picked up tennis and asks me to go play with her all of the time. She runs every day. Most recently, and thanks to her new boyfriend, she has discovered the magic of movies/Netflix. My mom went out to see the new Avengers movie last night. (I’ve been convinced by her and her new man that it’s worth going to the theaters for.) Thanks, but no thanks, Mom: I don’t want you and your man to take me along as a third wheel out of pity to see the movie...for a second time.
Back to my fight with my mother: I cried. I just looked at her and cried. And then of course, ladies, we all know what happens next: she cried too. And we sat outside for another hour talking about men and love and sex and dating. And she said what she has told me before, but I never realized until now:
“Jade. You love like me. When we love, we love like the world is in one piece because of the person we love. We love deep. And others can love deep, but they try not to. And we love deep, deep, DEEP.” (My mother’s way of emphasizing a word is to repeat it three times while increasing the volume of her voice.) “And we don’t even have to try. And, Jade. It’s a good thing. And I’ll tell you why. Because even when we get hurt, when we love so deeply, deeply, deeply, we learn so much. And we are strong women. Women who love a lot must be strong. And so they are strong when it does not work out too. Do you understand?”
And with tears streaming down my face like a kid who had just proved to his entire elementary school that Santa Claus did really exist, I nodded.
Since that talk (I’ll call it a talk instead of a fight now because I lost that argument so quickly and it ended well), I have given her boyfriend the chance that he deserves. And it’s been great. We’ve worked on puzzles and watched movies. I’ve learned that he is honest enough to call me out when I get a little too punny. He’s given his opinion on love, relationships, and traveling. And I’ve seen the little moments, the ones that were missing from my childhood: the morning he brings her flowers, the kisses to tell my mother hello and goodbye, and the date nights that have my mother humming while doing her hair and wearing the dresses she looks so beautiful in.
Last night, they went on a date. I peaked through the blinds after I shut the front door behind them and saw my mother in a beautiful black dress and high heels walk with him to his car. I wondered if she had watched me from the window when I went on dates. God, I love my mother. I wondered how she ever let us go out. I suddenly appreciated her whole hearted trust in all of her daughters. In us. In me. I don’t know how she let us go when she knew there was a chance we could get hurt. How did she do it? I think she values learning above most things—maybe second to love. I guess by letting her daughters walk to the car of a young gentleman or young lady, she knew she was letting her daughters walk into the best learning (and loving!) experiences of our lives. My mom’s got it figured out.
Her hair flowed long down her back. She was holding onto his arm. He opened the door for her to his car. She looked up and kissed him. Her eyes sparkled. Those big brown googly-eyes. She was gorgeous. I smiled, laughed, shook my head: Go get ‘im, Mom. She got into the car. I walked away from the door. I would let them have their night.
I went upstairs to pick up a book I had just started reading…I heard the engine of his car drive away from our house. I listened to it fade down the street...
I was glad I loved like my mother. And I’m glad she gave me those big brown googly-eyes too. They will come in handy someday.