Happy Birthday Umma!


Today is your birthday. Happy birthday!

I miss you so much even though I get so irked when you overreact on Skype while getting a peek at your only grandchildren. I can’t change your alarmist ways.

“Jihee-yah! Don’t leave the room, not even for a second. In that split second, they can get a serious brain injury if they wrestle down low like that. JIHEE-YAH! Look, look, ummunah! The little one is climbing something. The image is fuzzy. They are grabbing each other now – quick! AHHHHHH!”

“Umma please! Stop. They wrestle like this all day long. I know when to peel them off each other.”

I remember how I was waiting to exhale, imagining that once you arrived in NYC for a visit when Micah was still very little, I’d be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

I went to take a long, leisurely (celebratory) trip to the bathroom when you arrived. The baby started crying and I thought, “Girl, you good. Halmoni here.”

Next thing I know, you sprint into the bathroom with the baby in your arms and place him in my arms WHILE I AM STILL SEATED ON MY THRONE.

“A baby needs his mama. He was crying for YOU.” Thus began a series of squabbles and your usual vow to never return.

But Umma, I know it is all out of love. I am sorry for my harsh words over the years. You and Kevin see me at my worst because y’alls’ love is the love I am most secure in.

Today, on your birthday, I think of you mothering us, first in Korea until I was nearly five years old, and then in a foreign land where you couldn’t communicate all that you were going through.

And unlike Kevin, Daddy didn’t help out much at all so it was all on you.  It was a different era.

Throw in the language barrier and idiots screaming loud English at you, thinking that if they screamed it, suddenly you’d become fluent. I remember fighting for you guys even back then. “She is not hard of hearing so stop screaming!” How many maniacs hurling, “Go back to your country!” at the end of an argument at the store when THEY were the ones caught shoplifting.

I guess it is no surprise then that one of our kids is named Ellis. (Ellis Island – much love to all immigrants).

Oh, the shock of this latchkey culture you had no choice but to throw us into as you and Daddy ran various small businesses throughout our childhood. You told me how you never got used to it, this country where young kids had to separate from their mamas in order for the parents to make a living.

I don’t remember if I consciously thought this when I was a kid, but it would have been nice to see you more. I was a sensitive and inquisitive child and would have loved to talk things out with you. My sea of emotions and thoughts – to bounce it off someone safe and loving.

Once I saw your car in our apartment parking space and I couldn’t believe it. YOU WERE HOME FROM WORK! BEFORE DARK! I ran home the rest of the block, excited beyond belief.


Then I quickly realized that something was very very wrong. You were lying on the couch, eyes glazed over in shock. You were only home because you had been held at knifepoint at the store that day.  Daddy sitting by on the other couch, making compassionate sounds, looking downright dejected.

Perhaps this is why I chose to stay home despite so many doubts on the hard, crazy days. I wanted time with my kids, above all else. I wanted to raise my own little morsels these early years, despite the high highs and low lows of motherhood.

Umma, this is getting too long. And I’m scared the boys will wake up. I love and celebrate you today.

History is repeating itself with me immigrating from California to New York, doing this motherhood thing without an extended family, but you actually left your home COUNTRY to immigrate to this wacky land where kids talk back to their parents and are given timeouts or “consequences.”  Unlike you, at least I can communicate and be heard.  And unlike you, I didn’t lose my mama while still in high school.

Today, on your birthday, I am taking this lunch hour to appreciate what you went through.

I wish I could travel back in time to tell you you were doing a damn good job.

Hope to celebrate your next birthday in person.


Your One and Only Daughter,


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2 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Umma!

  1. She’s beautiful, your mother! I love how she supported your father and worked by his side…all with the purpose and dream of giving you a better life, hoping that one day you could “afford” to do what she couldn’t. Wow. A cool legacy story.

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