Identity

Becoming my mother

We had a very tumultuous relationship, my mother and I. We're both stubborn, and there's a lot there to unpack with her.

We had a very tumultuous relationship, my mother and I. We’re both stubborn, and there’s a lot there to unpack with her. I think what I’m going through is tough, but I don’t have three children, and I am not living paycheck-by-paycheck. I know the language, and I know people, and I have tons of friends that love me and can help me out at any minute. When you’re growing up, you don’t see the big world. You see what’s in front of you. I always thought I knew more than I really did.

What’s your mother like?

Both my parents are refugees from Vietnam, so they are your typical boat people. My mom was pretty poor growing up. She was adopted as a child, and she would tell me stories about how her mom would never give her any money to go out and buy things. So, she would find different ways, different schemes, to make money. One of the schemes was to go to the neighboring city and sell day-old bread. She would buy it at half price, and then bike her way back into the city, and sell it at full price. And then she would use that money to go out and play, or whatever she wanted to do.

My mom and my dad were dating when the war began.

My mom and dad were dating when the war began. She went looking for him one day after school, and he was already on a boat out of the country. So, she made the decision to leave as well. At that time, if you left the country and you were in open waters, the Coast Guard could pick you up and take you to a refugee camp. That was her plan.

Sometimes you don’t find the Coast Guard and the ship sinks and everybody dies. Sometimes you get picked up and sent back and are executed or sent to jail. My parents were eventually picked up by the Coast Guard. My dad went to Malaysia, my mom went to the Philippines, and eventually, they were adopted by a great family in Minnesota.

My mom has always had this very positive mentality. “We could have died so many times, but we didn’t. So, all of these things that we’re dealing with today are so minor compared to what we have lived through.” That perspective has always been really, really deep-seated inside of all of me.

I’m so much like my mom. For good or bad, she instilled in me the drive to be a social advocate and fight for human justice. To always do good things and stand up for people who have been hurt.

When I was pregnant, my biggest fear was that I would have a daughter, and of course, karma.

At the same time, when she would speak harshly to my siblings, and I didn’t feel like they deserve that, I’d say, “Hey, stop it. What are you doing?” When I was 16, we were yelling at each other. And she said, “You just wait. When you have a daughter, you’re going to have this times three.” And I was like, “Pshaw, I’m not having any kids.”

When I was pregnant, my biggest fear was that I would have a daughter, and of course, karma. God works in mysterious ways. I have a daughter.

Growing up, it was challenging because my mom and I were very much the same person. She’s fiery, she’s a go-getter, she does a ton. I guess there was just this combination of always being in awe of all that she could accomplish, and also this fiery spirit to be just as good as she was.

I remember working in her restaurant and being so impressed with her. She would have this stack of checks. Not the checks that you deposit, but checks that people use to write orders. And it included the total amount that customers would pay. She would just look through all of them, and then say, “Okay, that’s $1,500,” and have the exact amount. I would have to go into the register and punch in each amount and double-check the number, and she’d only be off by 30 cents. I was like, “How the hell did you do that?”

I’m just so grateful that she gifted me with ambition, courage and the ability to accomplish hard things.

She would always hark on me like, “Why did you go all the way down to the end of the restaurant to pick up one dish? You didn’t pick up all the other dishes on your way back. How stupid is that?” I would get so mad at her, but then I would learn and be like, “Oh, you know what? I will clean up this entire restaurant in 20 minutes.”

I ran away so many times, and we yelled at each other so many times. We just kept trying to overachieve each other. Now I’m older and I respect her so much. I’m a sponge, trying to learn things. I’m grateful that she gifted me with ambition, courage and the ability to accomplish hard things. But it was not an easy path.

HAVING A CHILD. WOULD YOU DO IT AGAIN?

Yes, if I could do it without being pregnant. Pregnancy is the worst. We’re looking at adopting in the future, maybe when this whole world settles down a little bit. I’ve always seen parenthood as another challenge.

I can be a good mother, and I can run a business. It’s hard and isn’t always beautiful or magical. If you look at my floor, you’d see it’s covered with bath bombs, Cheetos and Cheez-it bags because she’s not in school. The only way for me to get five minutes of undistracted is to throw a snack at her.

I want to see her become a good person.

I would definitely do it again. It’s amazing to see a little person grow into a big person. I don’t want to be the person that says, “Oh, I had a child because I want to see myself in another generation.” It’s not so much that. I want to see her become a good person for other people in the world. And I see that so much in her. She’s so kind. And honestly, if it was just me, I don’t think she would be the kind person that she is right now. It’s really my husband who’s a very gentle and caring soul.