“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” – as attributed to Mike Tyson
OK. Here’s what I’ve told you. I had to come back to the US of A. We were not sure for how long, but we thought we’d give it a go, you know, return to America for good, regardless of Trump-apocalypse, blah, blah, blah, and see what we could make stick.
Staying with my mom in Hawaii was part of the short-term plan, but when our long-term plans fell spectacularly through the roof, we were tail-spinning, reaching for whatever vines or debris was there to grab on to.
You think I’m exaggerating.
The biggest problem with having to scramble to form a new plan has centered on my mother. She’s not the stereotypical Tiger Mom (a strict or demanding mother who pushes her children to be successful academically by attaining high levels of scholastic and academic achievement); she’s a different animal all together.
She’s a Snake mother. Snakes strike, strangle, spit venom, slither, and whisper insulating remarks under your ear (you know, because they’re short). Now, that might sound harsh and unfair, but snakes also leave you alone most of the time. They don’t bother you unless you bother them. Snakes are survivors, smart, and apparently one of them tempted Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Life. Not bad for a snake.
Being back “home” has been like a battleground and I didn’t think it would be this way. Otherwise, why would I ever have chosen this route? My mom and I have always been very different people, yet our relationship had only gotten stronger and better since I left the nest for college. But what I’m realizing is mother-daughter relationships, like others, go through ebbs and flows, and we’ve hit a snag, got a flat-tire, and we’re arguing about how to drive.
What has become obvious is we have different values. Yes, we both were raised in different countries, our native tongues and cultures are very dissimilar and there’s a generational gap, also wide. But my goals in life, what I consider important – self-development, creativity, freedom and independence – could not be more different than hers. She values hard work, material goods and money.
In some ways, she reminds me of my former students back in Thailand or Cambodia.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
And there’s nothing wrong with her values or desiring wealth and money. I totally get it. Sometimes I wish I had a bit more of that fire, but I took another path in life.
One of the hardest things to communicate to her is that I’m a creative person pursuing an alternative lifestyle. But right now she’s upset that I’m not staying. She’s lonely, but she won’t admit it. She thinks I’m choosing a dead-end and even if I was, does that mean I deserve the silent treatment?
But I know I’m not the typical Asian daughter. I’m not the conventional daughter. I’m not what I should be and that’s an unbreakable thing to live down. I’ve got all of the American individualism coupled up with all of the shame and guilt of Asian collectivism.
My mom introduced me to one of her neighbors, a Japanese American a little older than myself. I was embarrassed because I was being pulled out of the house still in my jammies while we made small talk, but it got worse when she shared how she likes to spend her Saturday or Sunday visiting her mom, taking her shopping or getting her out to visit one of her siblings.
It was hard not to blurt out, “Hey, Colleen, you wanna go easy on being the perfect Asian daughter? My mom doesn’t need to be reminded that I live on the other side of the globe, okay?”
Of course, I just smiled. I’ve been compared to other Asians, specifically Thai daughters, all my life. I know who got pregnant “too early”, which had kids, who married well, where they live and in what kind of house. And I know who can cook. My mom still thinks I can’t cook. I even know who’s taller than me. Maybe this is what parents do in their spare time: match their kids against one another or the siblings.
Since I’ve been under my mother’s microscope I’ve come to realize that I will never make her proud or please her. No, I’m not feeling sorry for myself or asking for your pity. It’s simply a conclusion I’ve reached and maybe in the future things will change, but I’m not going to wait for that sun to come up. It’s okay. It’s a bracing strong shot of reality.
Being creative is considered a rare trait and yet it’s often not considered a valuable one. In some cases, like when looking for employment, it’s the kiss of hiring death. Companies want people who follow orders, not think outside of the cardboard box. Sure, this has changed, but not to the degree that we think it has.
It’s actually quite painful to not follow the herd, because there is this insane desire to be accepted, liked, and appreciated. I want my mom to accept me, but I’m not going to change my values in order for her to do so. This is a timeless struggle where the road forks and you have to decide, “Do I follow my desires or do what my family/community/etc. wants me to do instead?”
You’re considered selfish, naïve, and blind until you become successful or achieve extrinsic goals that the rest of society recognizes. And let me tell you, being excommunicated, judged, and looked down upon this way is emotionally taxing and heartbreaking. I can’t believe that my mom has built this wall between us because she’s angry, disappointed and disapproving of my choice to live abroad.
While I was updating the emergency contact information with the manager of the apartment complex my mom lives in, he said when I told him we were going back abroad, “So, you came out here for nothing?” I stared at him for a few long seconds because I was surprised that someone who doesn’t know me or my situation would say that, and that this is a narrative that flows through some people’s minds.
“Sometimes doors that you think are open, close. I don’t know why.”
I wish I had been more elegant.
The problem is I’m also a risk-taker. And during the last month or two, I’ve taken risks that have not paid off. Well, maybe they will, but so far it’s looking dungeon-dark. And to hear, “You’re an idiot,” in so many words, is not exactly lifting.
My boyfriend has been a counterweight, a rock, a friend who has stood by me during all this. He’s recognized my accomplishments, he’s told me that I’m actually a good daughter, he praises me for my problem-solving and my proactive attitude. We’ve been going on long walks. I probably haven’t thanked him enough for being so wonderful.
What I’ve learned so far:
- First, I don’t belong here. I don’t know where I belong, really, but being an expat has given me a defined community, worldwide friends and a life that I’ve enjoyed, for the most part, living.
- Second, I have a sneaky suspicion that I’m a gypsy, a wanderer, a nomad, and I’m learning to accept who I am. I’ve found it hard to come to terms that I’m different than society.
- Feeling grateful for kindness from strangers is magnified when you’re trying to do things the old-fashioned way without Internet or a phone.
- Friends who have understood me and reached out were not the ones I expected.
- Your values are a big fat deal. It’s helped me pan out and given me perspective on my relationship with my mom, as well as the way culture influences us.
- Understanding the ‘whys’ doesn’t make it hurt any less. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying.
- To the close friends that I still do have left on this island, thank you. I wish I had stronger, better words. This has been a dark spot in history and you’ve been part of the lights that have given me love along the way.
- I’m trying to figure it out and I know I have a long way to go. Here’s to still kicking around, new beginnings and starting over.
Thailand, here I come.
P.S. I finished another draft of my book!
P.P.S. My friends rock! Love you!