For me, February is a short month and jam-packed with celebration. Valentine’s day gets outshined by the celebration of Chinese New Year and mom’s birthday. There is no better way to celebrate than with lots of good Chinese Food! It was and still is a fond memory for me. February is the month of reconnecting to my Culture and to mom. It has become more sacred to me now, more than ever, as she is aging and her health and mind are slowly declining. It wasn’t always easy being a 2nd generation Chinese daughter. If you know anything about Chinese traditional families, then you already know boys are praised and daughters are not.
2nd Generation Chinese Girl
Mom obviously comes from a very traditional background. Basically, my brothers can do no wrong and I did everything right, but I just never got the praise I deserved from her growing up. Was she mean? No, she really wasn’t a mean mom and she didn’t know any better than I did as a mom. I can’t imagine what it was like for her to raise three children in a foreign country without a husband where she barely spoke the language. Yet, somehow, she preservered, and I know I get my will of strength from her.
My dad died when I was 2 ½ years old. It is a hole in my heart that will never be filled. Although I know now that mom did her best, I didn’t always see things that way. I was angry with her for a very long time. Most of my adulthood and very recently, even as I became her caretaker. And you know what? Becoming her caretaker was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. It was the beginning of my healing process with mom. My journey to forgiveness.
You see, mom has never said, “I love you”, even to this day. YES! FOR REAL! I said it to her lots of times when I was a little girl. I stopped because she never said it back. Although that was so hurtful to me growing up, I came to understand our cultural differences. Mom was raised in a generation where they just did not express emotions or feelings much; not in words or actions. See why I was so angry? It’s just the way it was.
Humility in the Chinese Culture
Humility has been part of the Chinese culture for years but I was never educated on it. That would have made all the difference in my life. Every time someone complimented me, I would have understood why my mom said nothing. I would’ve better understood why she would have to say something negative to counteract the compliment.
As a 2nd generation Chinese daughter, I wasn’t good enough. I would never be good enough. Or so I thought. Oh, you bet it sucked! To the core! I was looking for love in ALL the wrong places because of that. There was a time when I really hated being Chinese, almost ashamed of it. I wanted a perfect family as you see in the movies. Yes, I wanted a white Wonder Bread, all-American family! NO JOKE! I would even put a clothespin to pinch my nose because I thought it would make it pointier like a “white” nose (please insert laughter and laugh out super loud for this one).
I see the difference between my friend Alice and I. Her parents educated her on what humility is to our culture. Hearing her stories growing up was so in contrast to mine. She had two brothers, as I did. Circumstances were similar, except she had a younger sister. Other Chinese friends seemed to have experienced the same upbringing. It helps to know that I wasn’t alone as I continue to heal. It’s a constant work in progress.
As I got older and became a mom, I gravitated back to my Chinese roots. Suddenly, it was so important to me to remember all the traditions mom had taught me.
I felt panicked, like that seen in the 1988 movie, Beaches. The character, Hillary, was frantically sorting through photos. of her mom’s hands. She was approaching her final days and was remembering that she had her mom’s hands. I can totally relate to that. Tough, I myself, am not facing death, sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking they’re just isn’t enough time. Have you had these fears?
Celebrating the Chinese New Year are my best childhood memories with mom. I loved shopping in Chinatown with her and getting live fish and chicken from the butcher. My favorite memory is walking through Chinatown with the fish flopping in my bag. We prepared many special dishes together, and all from scratch. She always gave me the very important job of stamping the red ink onto the steamed buns and egg washing the pastries before they got baked. Mom never needed to cook from a recipe. It was all in her head which makes it all the harder for me to see her memory go. She really was such an amazing cook and baker. I regret not paying better attention back then because I know a lot of those great recipes are lost.
I will treasure those memories with mom and all the Chinese traditions she instilled in me. Now, speaking Chinese makes me feel so proud. I remember being embarrassed when mom would talk to me in Chinese in front of my friends. What else was she going to do? She didn’t speak English. UGH! Don’t you regret those moments? I sure do. It’s okay, we were young and stupid, and we ALL have those moments to cringe about, don’t we?
Forgiveness is not just about forgiving others. Forgive yourself too.
Create Your Own Traditions
Do you worry too much about capturing the past that you forget to be in the present? How I remember mom and how my children will remember her weighs so heavily on me these days. I want to preserve her life by passing down her stories and recipes. There were so many missed opportunities. Don’t miss yours as I did.
Fast forward to my motherhood. I decided I can make my own traditions with mom and my kids. I’ll admit, it’s trickier being in a bi-cultural family but worth all the effort. I KNOW my kids will look back and appreciate it as I do now. It’s just so cool to know that because I’m living proof of it! When I stopped being so angry, I started remembering all the great moments I’ve shared with her. She really was a GREAT mom. I’m so grateful to be able to pay her back by taking care of her now, in her old age. I really had NO desire to be the one, but funny how life works itself out, isn’t it? It has helped me forgive her as much as it has helped her see the women I’ve become. I can write a great ending to our story.
What about you? Do you need to rewrite your story? Haven’t spoken to or visited your elderly parents lately? Estranged from them for some reason? I encourage you, this month, to reach out to them, or someone you’ve lost touch with. After all, It is the month of love.
Maybe your heart needs a bit of healing. Maybe there are still some unresolved issues that need resolving or maybe they will never be resolved just forgiven. Whatever it is, you have an opportunity today to heal yourself. An opportunity to set a good example for your kids. Even if your stubborn parent(s) won’t let go of the past, you can let go. You can teach your kids to forgive and recover. It’s not easy, and it’s not always a two-way street, but we can make the right choices for ourselves. You are helping your children grow and persevere under any circumstances. You are helping them see that circumstances do not define who they are. We define who we are by writing our own stories.
Maybe there is a friend or another family member you need to reach out to…make amends. Maybe it won’t “fix” the relationship, but it can heal your soul. You know the good intentions you have in yourself and that’s enough. I promise you will transform into a healthier you. Forgiveness is a powerful tool and the best gift we can give ourselves.