I had been writing alot about the visit/stay of my birthmother and brother and quite frankly got depressed continuing the saga as there seemed to be little let up of the anger, resentment and confusion infused throughout the rest of the time they were here. There was an end to it, if only because they simply left and are not in my presence. But Thanksgiving is tomorrow and this time two years ago was a watershed moment for me and the truth of my feelings about how I internalized my adoption story. Partly out of protection, partly out of self-preservation, I never really allowed myself to express the anger I felt about being adopted, abaondoned and the pain that arose from blending all my identities. I am one who always wants to take the high road and go through difficulty with grace and decorum. The wrath was intense and my Umma got the brunt of it.
Here is how it went down. The holiday season began with a couple of “come to Jesus” moments. Weary of saying how tough this journey had been, I found that I was discovering a whole new vocabulary to describe the breadth of emotions that goes into conducting a tour of visitation like this.
I have been known by those very close to me to have a very long fuse. Well, my fuse burst the day before Thanksgiving lending me to feel most unthankful at the most inopportune time. I think it was a combination of being exhausted and feeling taken advantage of by my guests. Eight weeks in, cooking, working, taking care of two toddlers and constantly worrying about what to do for my houseguests, I felt strung out, wrung out. I was making apple pies and told my Umma to leave the apples only to find them all cut up and going brown after putting the children to bed. Apple pie. Seriously not a huge infraction, but she didn’t listen to me and didn’t cut them the way I wanted them to be cut. Not only had I asked her not to touch them, I said it in Korean certain she understood. I burst out in sheer anger in a way I hope never to repeat. What started as a misunderstanding, a desire to be helfpul ended with me yelling hysterically, I was viscerally shaken inside and my anger scared me. Those apples represented to me the chasm of difference between her and me. Apple pie was a part of my past, part of my adoptive family’s traditions and something I did alone to cherish those memories. Her desire to help amplified that we were just not the same. I have no shared history with her and thus everything I was reacting to was a reaction with no perspective.
The tirade unleased the filing cabinet of woes and ultimately was my first and only time opening up to my brother and Umma on how it felt to grow up here, with a family that I wished would have showed me more love and security and the embarrassing confession that I had been emotionally on my own. I looked at my Umma and my brother with my hands empty trying hard to express how barren I was feeling.
I was told that I needed to express how much I was hurting inside. I was told to a certain extent that my Umma was prepared for this and that she knew she needed to hear some of it. But I don’t think this was even in the realm of possibility of comprehension for my Umma. She didn’t leave her “room” for two days and sent my brother to do her bidding and talking. Seeing a grown Korean man cry was tough and I was bitter that his tears were not for himself so much as it was for the two women in his life – Umma and me. I felt bad he got the brunt of it and grateful he stood firm listening to my rant. Afterwards, there was no apology, only an explanation that she is Korean and therefore not demonstrative of her emotions especially when it comes to love and concern. Really, the culture card was going to be used now? Bullshit, I knew she was capable. During our scant visits whenever I went to Korea, she was very demonstrative, smiling, animated. I did not see that woman here during this visit. Did our meager situation surprise her, was she disappointed? Was she embarrassed that she had envisioned living in the lap of luxury coming to America? Was she sad that I didn’t have the easy breazy life that people usually think of when they think of Americans? I will never know. She said nothing, but cried and cried. I didn’t want to unleash, I didn’t want to be the one to throw out the reality check that not all adoptees live the dream life they were supposed to have. I didn’t want to be the example of success hard earned and happiness gained only after a ton of hard work. I was proud of myself for being able to say what I did but wished there was another way, without the ugly cry. And there in lies the mother of all misunderstandings. The only thing she said was really the most profound truth of all…”I never thought about how you lived here, I never thought about whether you were happy, sad, doing well…I only wanted to find you. I only thought about the day I would see you again.” Point. Blank. Period.
All this time, I was hoping she would care about what the last 30+ years were like for me. I was waiting for curiosity, detailed questions, an inquisition of how I became the person that I am. Mismatched expectations leads to failure in a relationship, I should have known better.
Two years after this moment, I am not any better at loving my Umma. We have an understanding though. We move on from this moment forward. We live in the present, through the eyes of my children and my grown up self. She isn’t the mother of my past wishes, but the mother of the here and now. She prays for me and thinks of me every day. She can now close her eyes and envision what I am doing day to day and that brings her comfort. She waits for my phone calls and is surprised happy to hear from me every time. Until we see each other again, time stands still a bit. This time, I am ok with that.
This Thanksgiving feels like the usual traditional one that I have had since I got married. Turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, pie…kalbi jhim, kimchee, hobak juk, dduk and pears. Perfect, predictable, comfortable.
Wanting to end this on a funny note…here are two photos that so beautifully represent me. Ironically, they were taken at the same store. Yes! There is a place for us betweeners:
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!