Last year my husband and I hosted a wonderful thanksgiving with friends and my mom. It was a special thanksgiving because my mom usually hosts thanksgiving in her house (six hours away) with several of my brothers and sisters. This year, my husband and I hosted thanksgiving for many of the same friends as last year. Normally, I love hosting big family-like gatherings. But this year something was off for me. I was missing my Korean mother. My umma. I fell asleep late the night before thanksgiving thinking about her. The next morning I had a surprising realization. After interviewing fellow adoptee Marja Vongerichten the week before, I realized that I was envious of her. One could easily be envious of Marja because of the rich and famous lifestyle she has been blessed with but it wasn’t her lifestyle that I was envious of (well maybe a little.) Rather, it is the fact that she has such a close relationship now with her Korean mother. Her Korean mother lives right here in New York, as does Marja, so she sees her often. I want that.
My umma has only seen pictures of my children, except for that one brief Skype session where she saw them via computer screen. Though they are four years old, my children are yet to meet their Korean halmoni/grandmother and my umma is yet to meet her American grandchildren. It’s funny, the ebb and flow of these adoption related emotions. One minute I think I am at peace with all things related to being adopted. The next minute I am longing to have a real relationship with my umma.
She is supposed to come and stay with me soon (along with my niece). I have been putting off this visit for a while now. I had asked my umma to come and stay with me last year. I admit, I got a little freaked out when I asked her how long she would stay and she responded by asking how long did I want her to stay. I swear if I asked her to move here she might. I am both terrified of her visit and anxiously await it at the same time.
Terrified because what on earth will I do with my mother with whom I can not communicate? (To all of my Korean speaking friends and Sola: you are on notice to be ready for her visit!) We do not speak the same language. We will be somewhat cramped in our apartment. She will tell me to read the bible and scoff at the Buddha statues I have throughout the apartment. I will have to play tourist guide, something I loathe. I will be uncomfortable and yet, I believe, somehow comforted at the same time. Just having her with me, in the same space, somehow will comfort me.
And then I’ll have to say good-bye again. Recently, a good friend of mine who was adopted domestically, had to say good-bye to his birth mother because she was moving from the Bronx to Florida. He had only found her five years earlier and loved having her so close to him. He could visit whenever he wanted to and he did often. He and his birth mother have a wonderful relationship. The act of having to say good-bye to her, again, was like torture for him. Even though she would still be in the United States, she was leaving and he would no longer be able to just hop on the uptown 4 train to go and visit her. My friend was crushed and the separation felt like another huge loss.
My friend’s experience reminded me of when I was leaving Korea in 2004 after I finally reunited with my umma and siblings. When we got to the area of the airport where passengers had to separate from their loved ones, I clung to my umma and cried. Even now I tear up as I remember this. I was not ready to be apart from her again. I felt like the little girl who had been separated from her over thirty years earlier and I have missed Korea, and her, ever since.
When my umma comes to stay with me, with all of the built in challenges, I will probably wish at times that she would leave. Then the time will come too quickly and she will actually have to depart. We will be forced to say good-bye once again. I just hope before she goes that she will cook some Korean food for me, perhaps hold my hand as we sit next to each other on the couch watching a Korean drama. Maybe my kids and I will learn some more Korean words. But most of all, I hope that her stay will comfort and nurture both her need to mother and my need to be mothered.