I had a typical life growing up as the child of immigrants - but my immigrant mother was (is) nothing but typical.
Success was expected, yes, and by all counts, demanded - but it came on our terms, not those determined years and years ago by Korean society.
And though I firmly believe that Korean parents love their children fiercely, despite so many accounts from fellow second-generationers that they grew up in a loveless home, I agree that the vast majority of Korean adults my parents’ age have a difficult time expressing their emotions.
But my mother loves me and I love her - and we tell each other that daily. Multiple times a day.
But it wasn’t until very recently that my mom confided that she had planned this - telling me, “When you were younger, I realized you were starved for love. And so I vowed to tell you that I loved you over and over, so you would realize that you were loved. And so you would grow up knowing what love was.”
I think she told me this once she thought I was old enough to hear this and not cry. It didn’t work, because I cried then and I’m crying now.
But her plan worked. When we still lived together, I told my mom “I love you” upwards of 50 times a day. Once I asked her whether she preferred hearing I love you or 사랑해. She said she liked the latter more, so I began saying 사랑해 instead.
I can’t talk to my mom as much anymore, what with the time difference and all, but even if our phone calls are incredibly short, we call to say “사랑해” at least once a day.
I’m exceedingly childish and still a huge brat, and so I also used to ask my mom (also multiple times a day), “Do you love me?”
I know she loves me, but I couldn’t seem to get enough of her telling me, “Of course I love you. What a silly question.”
Once she got upset enough to rebuke me.
“Why do you ask me if I love you? Do you know how it makes me feel, hearing you question my love for you? That my daughter doesn’t already know?”
Force of habit didn’t stop me from asking her the question again, but slowly, I’ve phased it out.
Because now that my mom is aging, I don’t want to make my mom sad.
I was both relieved and terrified when my mom told me she had decided to stop spending time with people she didn’t want to be around.
Relieved because my mother is unfailingly kind, and because she is surrounded by people who recognize her goodness, has become what I feel is a dumping for hate and bile, as they come to her to spill all their troubles.
I once thought this was an indication of how beautiful my mom is, especially since I am often the one coming to her in anger. Now, I fear that this has aged her and caused 화병 that she would never normally have and so I was thankful that she had decided to walk away from it.
But simultaneously terrified, because I realized that it meant that my mother was recognizing her own mortality and didn’t want to spend what time she had left of her life being unhappy.
It is my greatest fear that my mother will die. It’s irrational because it’s inevitable, but somehow I can’t fathom a life where my mother doesn’t reassure me that she loves me. And I can’t imagine not telling her I love her.