This Mother's Day, Ask Yourself: What Don't You Know About Your Mother?

When I think of my mother, I realize that it's the little things she does for me that make me who I am today. She’s the woman who raised me and the woman who took care of me when everything fell apart, over and over again. But one thing I don't know about my mother is who she was before she had me—before she was my mother.

Of course I know her story from a broad point of view. My mom was born in Taiwan and moved to America when she was 12. She struggled to learn English on her own. And I know that around 30 years ago on this very campus (go Bruins), my mom met my dad, and everything changed. I know bits and pieces of her life and who she was before me, but I don’t really know her. Not in the way that I know my friends and certainly not in the way that my mother knows me. 

I know that when she was a little girl, she missed a field trip when she had to spend a week in the hospital for food poisoning. I know that in the back of her closet, she has clothes she’s saved for me and my sister to wear. I know that on some occasions, she’s pulled those dresses out, and I know that some of my favorite photos of myself are of me wearing her old dresses. I know that she’s saved bits and pieces of our childhoods underneath her vanity table in those big, fat childhood memory albums; one for each of us, stuffed with our school photos, locks of hair and our report cards.

I know that my mother is a loving, passionate, powerful woman who is raising my sister and me to be the same way. I know that she thought long and hard about being a stay-at-home mother, and I know that she chose to continue working. I know that her being who she is made me who I am today.

Our mothers have seen us at our best and at our worst, and they have been there for us at those low points. My mother makes me feel safe and loved always.

I know that my mother makes constant sacrifices for my sister and me. It has gotten to the point where I know that her identity is essentially tied to being our mother. Anywhere we go, be it on the playground, in the classroom or even on campus, she’s “Alyssa’s mother” or “Madison’s mother,” never her own person.

In the course of her hard, complicated life, immigrating across the world, being thrown into entirely unfamiliar territory and working incredibly hard to get where she is today, my mother became deft at covering up her heartaches. But when she’s upset, sometimes things slip through.  

I know that my mother doesn’t have many fears. She’s one of the most courageous people I know and will fight to the end of the world for the people she loves. I know that it’s hard for her to say “no” and that she works too hard and sacrifices too much for the little thanks she gets. My mother is the one who listens to everything I have to say. Even now, she still holds me when I’m upset and in tears. She’s the person I’d turn to in a crisis and the person I’d trust no matter what happens.  

But what I didn’t know is what would truly make my mother happy, and that is something that I thought she must’ve already known, because it is an utterly conventional wish: for me to tell her that she is a good mother. Moving away from home this year means not talking to her everyday. It means I see my mother but only a few times a quarter. I hear her voice, but not even once a week. My mother is a better daughter. She calls her mother every day, and they talk on the phone. Talking to my mother makes me homesick. It’s not so much that I miss home as the fact that I’m not ready to say goodbye by the end of our calls. Hearing her voice reminds me of the comforts that I am currently lacking.

But when the time comes to say goodbye, she doesn’t hang up first. I think I can count on one hand the number of times my mother has hung up the phone first. From calls Friday nights in elementary school when we didn’t go to sleep without saying goodnight, to calls in high school just to tell me she was waiting at the curb, to calls now from my dorm room, my mother doesn’t hang up the phone first.  

As revelations go, this one was small. I guess I haven’t really had the opportunity to discover any of the things I think my mother has purposefully “hidden” from me—the things tucked away in her past. I guess that you never really know your mother because you can't know who she was before she was your mother.  

This might be a better way to phrase it: even if you know your mother well, it’s likely that she’s more than you know. And for the most part, that’s fine. No one can be fully known. Mothers are entitled to their inner lives, and children may prefer to be spared some of the details.  

I enjoy discovering things about my mother. It’s like adding to the picture in my head of who she is. This Mother’s Day, take a moment to think about your mother. Think about the woman you know and don’t be afraid to ask yourself: What don’t you know about your mother?