If you haven't' read Part I, please click here.


As much as I would like to say it's a lie, except it is not, that I came from a rather dysfunctional family.


My Mother

My mother came from a large family while my father grew up in the orphanage and later the military. Of all seven siblings, my mother was the shyest, quietest, and the most obedient child of all.

Unlike her siblings, she did not fall in love with my father. Her father, my grandfather, gave the order. Unlike her siblings, she never had any boyfriends. She skipped that phase and went straight to having a husband—a husband 18 years to her senior.

While her older siblings were out meeting boys, my mom carries her baby sister on her back while washing diapers.


My Father

My father always has had a temper. We never know what would tick him off. My brother, Jack, and I used to sleep together when my father was home. Some nights he would storm into our bedroom pulls off our blanket as if he was performing the table cloth trick as a magician, except he did it with anger. He would then beat us with his leather belt for absolutely no reason. We would crawl back to our bed as soon as he left the room.


Although still young at the time, my big brother would hush me to keep down the sound of sobbing fearing it might anger our father again. And every single time, my mom would later come into the room, and quietly put Mentholatum on each welt and wipe off the blood from each wound.

My mother, my brother, and I cherished the days whenever my father went on business trips or decided not to come home. The three of us would snuggle up watching TV in the evening.

All the laughter stopped, and our face froze the second we hear the door buzz. The monster is home.


Our apartment was within walking distance to the elementary school that my brother and I attended. My mother was a teacher there for many years. Most of the neighbors in the same ally are students from the same school.

More Childhood Shame

Whenever my father has his "moment," he would yell from the balcony like a lunatic. Besides the visible welts on our arms, everyone also knows we have a crazy father.


And when my mother takes us to our maternal grandparents' home, my uncle, cousins, aunts would mercilessly tease and shame my brother and me for having a psychotic father.


When my grandfather and uncle were upset with my father, they would beat my brother and me with the wooden cane. My two cousins would laugh and ridicule in our face during our usual "kneeling punishment."

The Escape

My mother must have had enough. When I was 12, she took me to live with my grandparents. Uncertain what was happening back then, it did not take long before my grandfather, her father, kicked us out of his three-story home.


We stayed a week with a friend of my mother's before she surprised me with the news of the century--we're leaving Taiwan.

It wasn't just my first time travel internationally; it was my first time seeing the airport. As soon as the plane took off, the only voice I had in my head, and I still remember it clearly, was, No one can ever hurt me again.

My brother Jack and I. He was 4 and I was just under a year old
My brother Jack and I

For many years I thought my mom took me away, but not my brother was because my brother later became very rebellious. She probably couldn't handle his aggressive behavior. On the other hand, I was exactly like how my mother was --obedient, shy, and never fuss.


That assumption, however, was incorrect. Back in the days, boys were drafted and weren't allowed to leave the country until they have served their time in the military. I did not understand the pain my mother endured at the time, leaving one of her children behind until I became a mother myself.

Some years after my brother passed away in 2016, one of his friends shipped all his belonging to me, and I found a pure and expensive gold chain with the number 21 on it. Later I learned my mother had purchased the chain for my brother before we left the country.

And my brother kept it all these years.

The New Beginning

The new school I attended in the US decided to hold me back a year since I couldn't even recite all 26 alphabets at the time. Before my mother could register me to the school, I had to get five or six shots, two or three on each arm that every morning. Thus, I was too painful to make any argument on that day.


My aunt was communicating and translating for my mom. She has lived in the States for some years. I do not recall being scared until my aunt turned to me and said, "Go with this lady. She wants to test your math level."


Oh crap, I thought to myself. I look for my mom's emotional support, but the look she gave me was, "Oh, dear lord. They might hold her back for another year or two."


Ten minutes after I came out of the assessment, the lady announced I would be in the honor class. While being held back a year, I would be attending math classes with students who are a year or two older than me.

To this day, I stand by what has been categorized as racist, stereotype statement that Asians are good at math. I am a living example. I've been failing math since first grade, and now delivering the Jesus walk on water miracle by placing in the honor and advanced math class gave me a fresh start. I thought it to myself; no one here knows I am the stupid kid. I can be a new me.


From there, I continued to thrive in math, music, and art - the only three subjects that won me numerous awards and scholarships.

PE

There are a lot of people who are great at sports. I am definitely not one of them. In fact, I sucked at Physical Education. Oh, it was my worse nightmare.

So I could count. I could read and learn music quicker than my peers. I was the protege to some music teachers for having a perfect pitch. You would see my artwork in the display case in the school hall. But I was never given the coordination to catch a ball; to run fast; to learn to float in the water (the bar was set low); roller skate, or do just one push-up.


Back in the '80s, PE teachers were clueless about being sensitive to student's shame. Instead of having us count 1-2-1-2, he would pick two future Olympians to select their team. Of course, I was always the last to be picked. Not too mention the long sigh from the entire team that ended up with me as their teammate.


PE was hell. PE was ridicule.


Since I was good at art, one of my God-given talents was beautiful handwriting. Teachers would often ask me to write notes or complete forms for them. These tasks then inspired me to start writing fake excuse notes from my mother so that I could skip PE.


My Physical Education nightmare finally ended the day I discovered that Marching Band is considered PE in high school. Hallelujah!


Besides PE, my junior high experience was not bad at all. If it wasn't the fact my mother was the teacher in the elementary school I attended, I am confident they would've placed me in the Special Ed class. Instead, I went from the bottom of the class to the top. Because I cherished the joy of getting good grades, which was new to me, I started to work hard on my own. When most of the other students probably did not have to spend more than 20 minutes studying for the exam, I would spend 4 to 5 hours to look up words I did not know, and write what I needed to memorize over and over again. I did all that only because I loved that good and positive feelings. It was my Cinderella dream that came true. Academically.

The Accident

In 11th grade, my mother decided to give her marriage another chance by moving back to Taiwan to be with my father. It took a lot of convincing for her to let me stay in the States by myself. But she did. Thank goodness it wasn't the digital era; otherwise, this would've been categorized as child endangerment.


During the first month of my junior year, I lived in the garage-converted studio suite. Not far from home Larry David filmed Curb with Enthusiasm. My job was to pick up the homeowner's son from school every afternoon in exchange for free room and board.

One morning, as I struggle through the road heading east to the school alongside a golf course with way too many trees, my eyes failed to adjust between bright sunlight and shades simultaneously. I'd woken up under a huge garbage truck with bystanders knocking on the car window. The windshield was shattered. The back of my left hand was swollen.

It took more than an hour before the ambulance showed up because the accident occurred right on the border of Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Both cities ping-ponged back and forth on who should go rescue this helpless teenager.

I am sure the ambulance was from Santa Monica because they took me to Saint John's hospital. Dr. McDreamy at the emergency room came and asked if any of my family was around. I shook my hand and told him they're out of the country. He was so friendly. As a typical teenage girl, I did not remember a word he said or the pain I had. I was busy daydreaming my beautiful wedding day with Dr. McDreamy.


Although I was in a nasty accident, I managed to remember to arrange to pick up the boy from school. I did not get back to the garage studio until late. Dr McDreamy informed me to stay awake, just in case. Then the mother of the young boy came to the room and said I could no longer stay with them since my car was totaled. She gave me a day to move out.

I crashed out on the sofa at one of our family friends' home. They were friendly people, but my immaturity got the best of me. I found the closeness they had as a family suffocating and overwhelming.


Somehow I came across an ad in the newspaper a single-parent with a young daughter was looking for a full-time nanny. I do not remember where I gathered the courage, but I went to a payphone, called, and 30 minutes later, I was in the living room interviewing for the position.

The Nanny

The single-parent was a beautiful Korean woman who worked at one of the fancy stores in Rodeo Drive. Her townhouse wasn't far from the high school I attended at the time. Somehow, she did not mind I was just a high school student. Before we wrapped up the interview, her daughter, who's been peeking behind the door, came out with the storybook and asked me to read it. Right at that moment, she told me I was hired. She said her daughter has never welcomed any of the potential nannies in the past.


If you read Part I, you remember my childhood dream was to become a mother. This nanny position was a dream-come-true scenario. I would go to school in the morning and pick up this little girl from daycare as soon as school was over. I would take her shopping, to the park, to the library nearby, or playdates. I would bathe her as soon as we get home. And while she plays in the tub, I would make her dinner. Sometimes the mother would come home for dinner, but most of the time, she won't get back until late. I would still be up doing homework or studying for exams.


The initial agreement was for me to work Monday to Friday night with Saturdays off and resume duty Sunday afternoon. However, it did not take long before the little girl grew close to me. I would take her with me to see my friends on Saturdays and Sundays. I didn't mind. I enjoyed playing this mommy role.


This beautiful Korean lady would often have men staying over. I didn't see anything wrong with it. It wasn't any of my business. Her daughter would stay in the room with me whenever a male visitor is in the home. The mother was so grateful she purchased my prom dress. Shortly after the prom, she told me she was going away for a week with one of her boyfriends. I thought it was great because it came to a point I wish she wouldn't bring them home so often.

A stretched limo came to pick her up, and she was off to New York.


This little girl has never had a friend sleepover. When she asked if one of her friends from the daycare could stay overnight, I was all in.


Both played in the big tub for a long time, had dinner, watched cartoons, and then went to sleep.

As my usual routine, I stayed in the living room to study. I was a month and a half away from graduating from high school.

I can't recall the exact time, but the phone rang, and it was the mother. She was either drunk or stoned. Likely both. It was hard to understand as she slurred and talking rubbish. I told her about the day we had, and unexpectedly she started shouting, like a madwoman, when she learned her daughter's friend was sleeping in the same bed as her daughter. I didn't understand the fuss and told her this is what sleepover is all about, and the young guest will return home first thing in the morning. The conversation did not go well. She insisted I called the girl's mother to pick her up immediately because the little girl is dirty. Dirty? I was confused. I reminded her that both of them had a bath. She yelled, "No, that's it. The girl is Mexican. She is poor. They are dirty. She cannot be in my daughter's beautiful bed."


Wow. Just wow. And most you think racism is only between black the white.


My reply was, "Woman, you're drunk, and you're probably stoned, too. Why don't you get some sleep, and we'll talk in the morning. I am going to hang up the phone now because this conversation is getting pathetic."


Less than 30 minutes later, her nephew showed up at the door, apologetically he said, "I am so sorry. I do not know what happened, but you have to leave now. If my aunt finds out you're still here in 30 minutes, she will call the police."


I told him what had happened while throwing all my belongings into a bag. The nephew was embarrassed and apologetic. I never got to say goodbye to the little girl.


I put all my stuff in my little Honda Civic and slept in it.


The very next day, I learned I could stay with my friend's mom, even though her home was a drive from my school. I didn't care. I wanted to graduate and I needed a place to sleep and shower. Heck, I was supposed to deliver a speech at the graduation. Not as the valedictorian. Just someone who auditioned and made the cut.


Our high school graduation was at UCLA. Four of my friends came to support. My parents did not attend. They didn't attend my junior high school graduation either.


To be continued...


In second grade, we had to write an essay on what I wanted to be when I grow up. Unlike most of the Asian kids with parents proudly approved goals such as a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or a policeman, I wanted to become a mother with ten children.

Twenty-nine years later, my dream finally came true. I was supposed to play Santa myself by delivering a baby on December 24, 2000. My dream arrived on the afternoon of December 13, only because I insisted on natural birth. And only because I am a 5'1 tiny woman and the baby had to come out early without breaking me into halves.


I did not suffer severe morning sickness throughout the pregnancy. I couldn't stand the smell of green onions. I had a strong craving for Italian dry salami. Odd? I secretly drank my favorite Jasmine green tea with honey and boba when all of my mom's friends warned me not to do so. To my defense, none of them graduated from medical school, nor were they able to provide evidence with fancy medical terms.


I did, however, played classical music next to the big fat belly every single day. I followed the advice on walking up and down the stairs (indoor) and hills (outdoor) hoping for a smooth labor.

I checked in around 2 AM on the 13th, and the baby came out at 1:53 PM that very afternoon. I passed out while reaching out to hold my baby. Next thing I know, I'd woken up in a private room covered with tubes. It was already tomorrow by then, and I haven't held my baby. With my mother's help, I pushed myself out of bed to use the bathroom. Next thing I know, I'd woken up on the bathroom floor numbly watching a nurse patting (although slapping would be more accurate) my cheeks, calling my name, and my mom stood next to her horrified.

I had to wait for another night to hold my baby. The doctors needed to make sure I wouldn't pass out while nursing him. I could not argue with that.

While everyone was concerned about my health condition, all I wanted to do was to hold the baby I haven't met. Finally, they moved me to another room, and I could go to the nursery to nurse my newborn, wrapped in a blue blanket.

He was tiny and beautiful. Not sure why, but it was at that moment I feel I have officially entered motherhood.


 
Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

Motherhood is my savior, my Polaris (I'm referring to the north star, not the ATV).

Motherhood teaches me the true meaning of unconditional love, especially during the Terrible Twos, He-Just-Won't-Shut-Up Threes, and Time-Out-Is-A-Joke Fours.

Motherhood takes unconditional love mentioned above to another level as the child of mine entered Tween and Teen. Tween runs roughly between 9-12. Teen runs from 13-19. I might not have a degree in Calculus, but I know that's a decade. A decade is a long time.

Motherhood is to overfill my office desk, and walls when applicable, with photos of my son, from birth to the present time. And talk about how my son scored a goal during his soccer game before weekly meetings.

Motherhood is about carrying travel-sized tissue packs (instead of makeup bag) to every performance, award ceremony, and competition.

Motherhood trained me to come up have two speeches for every competition, group or individual--one for the victory and one for losing. However, these speeches eventually shifted to the conversation once he was in high school. And sometimes, my son would awe me with his unscripted heartfelt thoughts that bring tears to my eyes while I cherish the proud mamma moment.

Motherhood provides me the opportunity to uncover the courage I did not think I have within me. The courage to advocate for my child. The courage to shamelessly negotiate for a lower price because every penny counts. The courage to weep quietly in the bathroom so my child can gain the most valuable lesson in life by pulling himself up when he falls (both literally and metaphorically). This type of heartache outranks labor pain, unarguably.

Motherhood trains me to be kind to everyone (as a positive role model, doh), but if you harm my son, I will cut you without hesitation.

Motherhood wavers each year and boosts my mental pliancy accordingly. There is very little time to adjust when my child calls me mom instead of mommy. There is no explanation when he politely asks me to hold off on hugs, something he couldn't get enough of once upon a time, especially in public settings. "I love you" is then strictly prohibited.

Motherhood, throughout the years, nudges me not to strive for perfection. There is no need to wear the cone of shame if feeding my child McDonald happens to be the most practical and efficient choice every now the then.


Motherhood nurtures my vulnerability. There are days I saw on the bathroom floor, doubting my poor parenting skills. There are days after observing certain behaviors, I'd ask myself, What I have done to that child of mine? There are days I turn to the higher power to guide my child mainly because I simply couldn't.


Motherhood also teaches me to let out a sigh of relief, furtively, when hearing other moms complaining about their kids.


Motherhood isn't easy, but it is the most rewarding role I play in life.

Motherhood unfolds the enlightenment that being selfless is a privilege.

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

Disclaimer: Until I come up with my own word, I am borrowing Michelle Obama's brilliant title, Becoming. By the way, if you haven't read the book, you should.


Childhood Shame

I was born in a small town outside of Taipei, Taiwan. It was a complex guarded by soldiers for families who work for a government-owned National Institute of Science and Technology. My father, in fact, devoted his entire career to this institute.


From what I can remember, the complex was friendly. It was almost like its own city. The soldiers at the gate were always courteous, with kids, especially.


Straight passes the gate is a large green field with lots of trees. I would spend many afternoons running on that field or walk across the field to my ballet classes in the gym.


On the left side of the complex were four-story apartments. Ours was on the ground level. For some reason, my memory is limited to the exterior of each apartment building. Not so much interiorly.


At the end of the complex was a cafeteria for residents to entertain their guests. It used to be a treat when mom would take my brother and me there for dinner. Next to the cafeteria is the motel for short-term stays. I remember we stayed there a couple of times after we moved to Taipei.


My mother has been an elementary school teacher all her life. I do not have much recollection of the elementary school as I only attended kindergarten when we lived there.


For someone who would not refer herself, ever, with a perfect memory, I somehow remember the kindergarten being a big circulated-shaped building.


I wish there was a children's book similar to one of Brené Brown's TED Talk on shame as that is one of the best words summarizes my childhood.

Here is the list of shame I lived with throughout my childhood:


The Mole.

I was born with a mole on the right side of my face, between the nose and upper lip. Similar to the mole seen on Cindy Crawford's face but slightly higher toward the nose. The mole converted me, religiously, to be the laughingstock for years that I did not sign up for. The mole is defined as a female with borderline frivolous and reckless behavior. Boys, plus some evil-minded girls, would make fun of the mole.


The Lips.

If that wasn't enough to make my life a living hell, in addition to that mole, I was also born with very thick lips. Another target to be the laughingstock. Even my own mother would constantly remind me to tuck my lips in. My not-at-all-fondest memory was the day I finally got to wear the white rope and sang at the church choir. I searched for her face and a thumbs-up; but instead, she signaled me to tuck my lips in. She was ashamed of my look.

The Cursed Surname.

If that wasn't enough, my last name, Chang, its pronunciation in Chinese is similar to the word dirty when pronounced in Chinese. Everyone used to call me by my nickname, Meitzi. Meitzi means the baby sister of the family. Except at school, and the big green field where all the kids play, I was called Zhang-Mei-Tzi, which translates to Dirty, filthy baby girl.


One afternoon after my mother got home from school, she heard knocks on the door. There, outside of our small apartment, stood 4 or 5 moms. They did not look happy. Once my mom politely asked their reason for visiting, they complained that I had pulled their sons' hair and pushed them to the ground. Yes, all these moms were boy's mom. Disbelievingly, my mom asked if they know her sweet little angel would do such a thing. One of the moms called her son over to explain, and with his face looking down the ground, he said, "we were calling her zhang-meitzi..."


My mother, being the respectful teacher in the neighborhood, burst out laughing. All she said to the boy was, "now you learned your lesson, I hope," and shut the front door.


I later did the same to those evil girls who mocked me in ballet class.

I was not a feisty girl growing up. In fact, I was known to be shy. My vocabulary was limited to identify a word such as shame to justify the awful feeling I endured back then. I do recall I cried a lot as a child. Perhaps those were tears of frustration. I have no idea.


Unlike my brother, I was not a bright student once I started elementary education. I could barely pass math, and we're talking about additions and subtractions. My second-grade teacher was a dear friend of my mother's. She was the only teacher who would bring the test paper to my mom and let me retake the test at home with some help.


The only two subjects I excelled in were drawing and writing. My writing was published in the Mandarin Daily News--a traditional Chinese children's newspaper in Taiwan--and in the school newspaper. I also represented my school to compete in writing competitions. Yet I would struggle passing subjects such as Math, History, Social Studies, and Physical Education. Ranking-wise, it would be faster to find my name if you started from the bottom of the class. My brother, however, was always in the top ten, if not five.


Not only was he intelligent, but my brother was also a very good-looking boy. He has thick eyebrows, beautiful lips, and eyes. A total opposite of my outward appearance. I grew up with the story that my mother had grabbed the wrong baby and took me home by accident since I did not inherit any of the good looks from my parents as my brother did.


When I was fourteen, my mother found a cream that would remove moles. I begged her to put some on my face, and a week later, the frivolous mole disappeared. No word could describe the joy I had. I would not be surprised to know that I would fall asleep with a big smile on my face the day my mother put the magical cream on that mole.


Decades later, the world introduced a famous supermodel Cindy Crawford with the signature mole. Another decade later, women would spend money to puff up their lips to look "full." All that shame I endured in childhood are now beauty signatures.


Shit.


Before moving to the States, one of my aunts bestowed me with a new name, Diana. When my meaningful Chinese name pronounced in English, it indeed sounded like eat shit. Around the same time when Cindy Crawford was famous, Michael Jackson came up with a hit song called Dirty Diana while I was in middle school.

Fudge. I just can't get a break on my damn names.

Welcome!