Updated: Nov 26, 2018
Written by: Helen Lum Lum
I haven't written from the heart in years. Now my beautiful friend, Tahira is asking that I write something and contribute to her site. She told me to write a bit, anything, maybe about life as a single mother. I have to admit that this isn't going to be easy, nor will it even be all about life as a single mother. When I write, I just let whatever comes to surface flow out of me. So here goes a jumbled mess. I apologize straight up...
First off, I am first generation Chinese American. I was raised frozen in a Chinese cultural timezone. What I mean by that is when my parents came to America, to San Francisco, it was 1974. They came here from Hong Kong and brought with them the Chinese culture that they knew. While my parents were and still are living in America, China and Hong Kong were evolving socially, growing and changing as societies normally do, without them. Living here, they have and continue to miss out on whatever social advancements were made there. This is what I mean by frozen cultural timezone.
Throughout the years, my dad has taken on much of the American lifestyle so was able to grow and change and adapt Western culture into his Asian one. My dad speaks and writes English fluently but not without some grammatical errors here and there and a thick Cantonese accent. My dad made an effort to go out and learn. My mom, on the other hand chose to stay within her comfort zone. She only hung out within the Chinese community, felt more comfortable there and worked in Chinatown. My mom still cannot speak or write English fluently. As a matter of fact, she texted me a photo earlier today from her doctor's office of a form which I translated for her so she could fill out.
In 1974 Asian culture was very much matriarchal. The women were submissive and obedient. Shame, your reputation, what others thought of you, saving face and pride are what molded people in Hong Kong into who they are now. My parents' generation are still keeping these ideals very much alive today, even as the newer generations may not feel the need to. This way of living is not for those who crave realness and soul expression. This way of living kills your soul. You are at the whims of what others think of you and your only actions are to impress others. It's a very limiting box to live in. It is a shallow, petty world, devoid of any depth. This is my mother's world.
Outside the home was very different though. I went to public and private schools. Locals seemed so comfortable in their own skin. I turned on the television and Brady Bunch would be on. The television was my segregate family. Brady Bunch was the family I could escape into. It was the possibility that another kind of family could even exist. It's so ironic to say that television was my saving grace and kept me decent and real.
When my parents would be working, I would sit in front of the television learning about values, honesty, and integrity, none of which were even discussed by my own parents. There were no discussions of any kind of depth at home. In fact, there were no discussions at all, well, except for the time when my dad told my sister and I that he and mom were getting a divorce. I was maybe 10 or so at the time, although they didn't divorce, not until my 30s anyway. It's just the Chinese way to show no emotion. It's the norm to never hear your parents tell you that they love you. It just doesn't happen. When they did talk to me it was to make sure I finished my homework, or what I wanted to eat for dinner. I always said I wanted a salad but not once did I get one. If it wasn't Chinese, I wasn't getting any.
So I grew up with parents devoid of any emotional depth, but I had my older sister who is only one year my senior, I had friends from school and the television to fill me in on what was missing, that which my parents did not give.
In my late teen years, my dad started dating a Latina woman who was quite the opposite of my mom. By then, my parents were no longer an item and they had other lovers, even though my parents still shared the same roof. This separated or divorced and still sharing the same roof thing may or may not be a common practice in the Chinese culture. I hear about it often. Or it just may be a SF Bay Area thing especially since housing in this area is so excruciatingly expensive. It may just be a money thing, but it does happen.
In our teen years, my sister and I tried to kill ourselves on separate occasions. We downed a bunch of pills but nothing came out of it but episodes of vomiting. When my parents found out, my father never mentioned it. My mom said to me, "Don't do that again," and that was it. We were living with my parents who did not have any emotional support to give. Our dad was angry all the time over rumors of his wife's infidelity. He had to hear it through the grapevine. Dad was hurt, cold in his heart, mad, hardened, quick to strike and frightening. My mom was bringing home strange men, or out all night, drunk, passed out on the floor, driving us girls under the influence, manipulative, lying, passive aggressive, and in her own world.
Then during my late teens, dad made a complete 360. He began dating a Latina lady. She was the exact opposite of my mom. She was warm, loving, sincere, had morals and integrity. Her influence rubbed off on my dad. He became approachable. He was happier, friendlier and my sister and I could talk to him. He would now listen understandingly. He even became a better dresser. My mom and dad grew even further apart. No, never mind. I take that back. Mom and dad were never close. They never even spoke to one another, and now the wall wedged between them became impenetrable.
I was raised to be polite, presentable, clean, obedient. I was spoiled too. I barely had to lift a finger to do anything. I was a spoiled, brain dead little princess. There were no chores to do. No laundry. Maybe I did the dishes less than 10 times in my childhood. I scrubbed my first toilet at 23 years old. I was bought mostly all the toys I ever wanted. I had material things, food, roof over my head, clothes but I never had one single meaningful conversation with my mom, not even til this day. As long as I looked presentable, fed and was polite that was all that mattered.
In high school, I was dead inside. I took risks. I didn't care. I wanted to feel something. Anything. I did bad in school. I cut cIass. It was meaningless to me. I was so numb. Then, not long after my sister tried to kill herself, she just up and moved out. She was 16 or 17, I think. She hid in her boyfriend's room for years. When they turned 18, she and her boyfriend eloped. They are still happily married to this day. My sister got out early. She was the luckier one.
I remained pretty much empty my whole adolescent, teen and 20s, just acting out a role that I was supposed to be. I was convinced that's all there was to life. In my 20s I got together with a guy who was the typical bad boy, rocker musician, a drug user. He occasionally brought home LSD and we took it together. On one acid trip, I was able to go within and see me as a person. What I saw was that there was no me. I had no soul. I was a blank slate. The only person that existed in me was molded by the perception of others. In other words, my mom and dad thought I should be one way and I would be that. I was molded by others. There was no me. I didn't understand what I saw at the time. I just thought I got a glimpse into how everyone's personality was formed. I assumed everyone existed and lived through other's perceptions. I thought this was the only way people were able to exist at all. Now, I can see the truth for what it is.
I'm 44 now and consider myself to be a late bloomer. I never had a sense of self. I'm still struggling to find me. I have lived my life at the whims of others. I never knew I even had a choice. One could say that I am too old to just be discovering who I am and much too busy, but I have to, because, well, if not now, then when? To be honest, I am a straight up mess. I am overwhelmed. I am scared to be me.
I am now a single mother of two. My son is 14, and my daughter will be turning 10 in eight days. Life is happening and I'm running around trying to get it all done, trying to give my children a fair chance at life, in hopes that they will grow up wiser and more independent than me. Three years ago, I left a 12 year long emotionally fucked up relationship. Maybe you've been there. Maybe you were tricked as well. I was tricked. I was manipulated. I was made to feel as if I was less than and I looked up to my manipulator and thought my own thoughts were crazy and never good enough. I thought this was completely normal, but this was just what I was used to from a lifetime with my mom. My ex treated me the same way my mother did as I was growing up. I grew up thinking that to be treated this way was normal.
I was 27 when I met him. Here was a man that elicited the same feelings of familiarity. Well, it must be good then right? He loves me the same way as my mother loves me. I know this feeling. It feels safe and he wants to start a family. So that's what I did. All I have to do is to stay within my role and all would be okay, but it wasn't okay. I didn't want to raise my children up the same way as my mother raised me. I couldn't see it clearly enough while it was happening to me but I certainly could see it happening to my son. I could see the pain in his eyes when he spoke but his dad did not hear him and put him down for having feelings of his own. I stood up for my son and was able to finally see the same manipulative controlling behavior being shelled out on to my son and onto me, as well as being able to see the similarity between my manipulator and my mother. My eyes began to open, if not for me, but for the sake of my children. I could not let them grow up the same way.
Every time, I tried to make things better, I was shot down, and the conversation turned around and my manipulator made himself the victim, and I felt guilty. I let my manipulator convince me that I was the insensitive one, that I was always the wrong one. My close girlfriends were quick to point out how he twisted reality and one of my friends is a psychologist so I paid close attention.
I tried leaving him so many times and he would again twist reality until I thought that I was going crazy, and I doubted myself, but always a visit with friends grounded me firmly back into reality. This cycle happened repeatedly until my clouded vision began to clear, and I gained more sense of self. I couldn't do this alone, and with the support of my friends, I eventually stopped going back to him. I was no longer gullible. I could see how he used guilt and my own weaknesses to control me. I could see through his antics and I was no longer malleable. I started dating other people. I only went back to visit occasionally so that he could see his children. On one of these visits, 3 years ago, on Easter day, he sexually assaulted me. I pressed charges and he spent the night in jail and we've been back and forth in family courts ever since over visitation and keeping my children safe from abuse. Even after sexually assaulting me, he still is trying to twist events around to make it seem as if he is the victim.
I can say that I only began living 3 years ago when I took a stand for my children and for myself. I wish I could started of living consciously in my early 20s or even 30s, but I how was I supposed to know this as a child? As a child, my brain did not have the capacity to understand or to gather the pieces of the puzzle together that, which is, my life. I am still learning, although I am no longer at the whims of others. I am still trying to become an independent person. I want to trust myself. I want to recognize my gut instincts. I want to know my strengths and access them with confidence. I want this for my children so I need to be an example of it.
I guess I talk too much. My thoughts are many and dance around my head, trying to catch my attention. They want, so badly, to be heard. Sorry I did not enlist my sister to edit this for me. She does all my editing to my lawyer who cannot be bothered by any kind of emotion or repeatedness. Maybe I should have talked about Twin Flames instead. I met mine. Never mind, he's married and his work is incognito so perhaps the subject of him is off limits for now. To conclude, yes, single mom life is hard especially when the ex doesn't help in anyway, monetary or otherwise, but I keep moving forward. I keep getting wiser. I am growing as a person. I wrestle with my demons and obstacles daily to discover my strengths and who I am as a person. It's not an easy task when I've been absent for so long, but I cannot turn back now. I do it for my children.