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To All the Moms I've Loved Before (Well, Just One)

As kids, we loathed the idea of turning into our moms. As adults, there's nothing we love more than seeing the ways their habits and values live on in us.

My mom is scary when she yells.

She’s even scarier when she’s not yelling, narrowing her eyes at me in a silent dare to take that tone with her one more time. But nothing in this world terrifies me more than when my mom doles out her favorite threat: “when you get older, you’re going to be just like me. And then you’ll understand.”

When you’re a kid, then a teenager, those are the last words you want to hear. No matter how well you get along with your mom, when you’re a young person eager to grow into yourself and be taken seriously, you don’t want to associate yourself with the traits and rules you’ve spent your whole life being dictated by.

When I was an ungrateful kid, there were a lot of things my mom made me do that I didn’t like — cultural things I later learned that many Japanese American mothers make their children do.

Nothing in this world terrifies me more than when my mom doles out her favorite threat: “when you get older, you’re going to be just like me. And then you’ll understand.”

Every year on my birthday, I’d try my best to cling onto the joy of unwrapping my presents, but I could never totally ignore seeing my mom out of the corner of my eye scribbling on a notepad, making note of who gave me what. Seeing her take detailed notes filled me with dread for what was about to come: the thank-you card phase. And every year, without fail, on the morning after my birthday she’d sit me down at the kitchen table in front of a neat stack of cards, envelopes, and her notes so I could personalize each card. When I’d complain about my hand hurting from writing so much, she’d reply with “well, maybe I’ll tell them that they don’t have to give you a present next year,” to which I’d shut up and put my head down, jotting furiously.

My mom also carefully instructed my brother and I to clean up after eating meals at another person’s house, no matter what, which confused me. In almost every situation, the host — usually an aunt or uncle — would say “no, I have it covered, you just sit and relax,” which I’d obey gladly, only for my mom to glare at me until I stood up and started gathering plates.

“Why do I have to clean up when they said they didn’t need help?” I’d whine later.

My mom would just look at me and say “you shouldn’t have to wait for people to give you an opportunity to think outside of yourself. You should just do it.” I’d learn that defaulting to refusing help from others was an Asian thing, too.

As I got older and was tasked with more responsibilities, I’d often question my mom’s way of doing things because I felt that it required more effort than necessary, or it didn’t matter at all. Sometimes arguments would end with me giving up and saying “I just don’t understand you.” And she’d always say, “don’t worry. When you get older and become like me, you’ll understand.” It sounded like a curse when she said it.

Around the time I moved out of my house, separated from my mom for the first time, I began noticing how certain behaviors of mine felt familiar. When friends would come over, out of instinct I’d ask if they’d eaten yet, and I’d pull out some snacks or cut an apple. When my boyfriend left on work trips, I’d demand two texts from him: one when he’d arrived at the airport and another when he’d landed, so I’d know he was safe. It didn’t take me long to realize that even though I was no longer living with my mom, her habits were now living with me.

It was in my mid-twenties that I realized I was well on my way to becoming my mom, and though I’d expected to feel disappointed by that fact, I ended up feeling my heart swell with gratitude. My mom wasn’t forcing me to go out of my way for others to punish me; she was trying to teach me to think about other people before myself. Suddenly, I understood her reasoning behind everything — it was like I’d cracked the mom code. My friends have also begun transforming into their moms in their own ways, whether it’s through saving each plastic grocery bag in carefully folded triangles or coming prepared to every event with snacks in tow. Our conversations about these changes are always tinged with tenderness. We don’t say it, but we kind of love who we’re becoming. Our moms are always prepared, always gracious, and always get the job done.

It was in my mid-twenties that I realized I was well on my way to becoming my mom, and though I’d expected to feel disappointed by that fact, I ended up feeling my heart swell with gratitude.

On a recent call, my mom shared that when she and her mom would argue, my grandma would give her The Look and say “when you grow up, you’ll see. You’re going to be me.” I laughed out loud. Along with poor eyesight and high blood pressure, my family also passed down prophecies. Daughters become their mothers. And I, for one, am grateful for this inheritance.

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Article featured in this issue:
Happy Mother's Day
May 10, 2020

In celebration of the moms in our lives, we put together a "mini issue" in gratitude for all the ways they've helped us to grow. Cheers to becoming just like mom... even though we swore to ourselves that we never would.

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