As a mother, I find myself reminiscing about my own childhood throughout the day. I feel a sense of deja vu: something I’m doing with my children (baking cookies), or something I am doing to my children (giving them a bath with Mr. Bubble) and even the dreaded what I’m saying to my children: “Turn that TV down, it’s too loud!” Was that me or my mother?
One thing about being a 2nd generation Korean-American (or 2nd generation anything with war, famine or devastating plague during the 1st generations’ lives) is that no matter how bad it gets for you, it was always worse for your parents. When my first child was learning to walk and I was pregnant with #2, I would tell my mother I felt nauseous and helping Josie walk was killing me. “What about me? You and your sister, 11 months apart! I was in apartment, no car, no friends, you daddy work all the time, I have not so good English…just me and two babies.”
My parents made my sister, brother and me take all kinds of lessons in our childhood: cello, violin, piano, and martial arts. We took Tae Kwon Do when we had no interest in it. There was no such thing as quitting, either: we were relieved of lessons only after we earned our 1st degree black belts. “Ai goo! You don’t know how lucky you are! Your father had to take Tae Kwon Do then go to military school.” If we whined to our mother at all about having to do extra math homework given to us from our math-and-computer science professor father, we were told to count our blessings, that they did not attend any school for eight years due to the Korean War. “We were dying to go to school! You are lucky. Very lucky.”
Watching TV was a guilty pleasure. “Play outside! Why you watch so much TV?” We’d watch “The Brady Bunch” and eat potato chips, laughing at Peter’s antics, sympathizing with Jan’s adolescent woes, and mimicking Cindy’s lisp. My mother was cooking lunch or dinner, washing dishes and even on her hands and knees, scrubbing the kitchen floor while we relaxed. My mother could sew. I didn’t appreciate it then, but she made curtains and tailored clothes effortlessly.
Decades later, I can’t sew and can make only the most basic Korean foods. What happened? Why didn’t she turn the TV off and teach me these things? Why didn’t I shut it off and ask her to teach me?
Too often, there is a gap, a chasm, a veritable abyss of communication between immigrants and their children. We speak different languages, hold dissimilar values and completely misunderstand each other. Some experts assert that this is a necessary loss in immigration, an unavoidable expense. However, I can’t help but think with just a little more effort on both sides, the losses could be minimized. To have the best of both worlds, now that would be a lucky thing.