Growing up as a mommy

betty ming liu Relationships 16 Comments

The past week has been a tornado of teen activity in our house and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything in the world! My daughter Gabi took us through her prom, after-prom partying and graduation. So many emotions for me, and not all of them pretty. But in the end, we celebrated her exciting rite of passage with great happiness.

If you want to read the dirt, here it is: While I’ve been bracing myself for the bittersweet experience of letting my baby go, I wasn’t prepared to confront my own jealousy. Ugh, there — I’ve admitted it.

Can I get whine-y for a second (or two)? I was Class of 1974 at Stuyvesant High School, at a time of intense protest against the Vietnam War. The concept of prom seemed so frivolous that we cancelled it. College wasn’t a big deal for me either; between my rotten grades and control freak immigrant parents who wanted me to stay close, I lived at home and commuted by subway to campus. Of course, all of this meant that I didn’t have much of a social life.

So here I am, in totally new territory. I have a fabulous, very social daughter who is going away to a great school. Thanks to her, I get to vicariously experience all that I missed, which has been wonderful. And yet, there were twinges of regret for myself. They hit me mid-way through our busy week, between prom and graduation. We had been doing a lot of running around and I was feeling like an exhausted, cranky old lady.

That moment proved to be a turning point because an insight slapped me in the face. Suddenly, I understood those parents who choose to live through their children instead of letting their kids go. In my neediness, I felt an overpowering urge to clutch at Gabi and fill up the emptiness of my own teen memories with her experiences — a shortcut to personal fulfillment.

No, stop right there! She has to find her own way while I stand at the door of our home, waving good-bye with love and pride. If I can give my daughter her space and figure out my own destiny, then I’m sure that our future as mother and daughter will include a precious bonus: We just might become friends for life.

Of course, there’s plenty of stuff to keep me busy in the days ahead. I’ve got writing and art projects to create, journalism classes to teach, home repairs to make, bills to pay (college tuition — help!!!). But the real mission isn’t about  filling up the time. My greater goal is to evolve as a passionate person. Live in the moment with grace while showing kindness to others. Can I do that?

Right after Gabi’s graduation, we took off with her godmother Judy for a getaway weekend at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, N.Y. Our two restful days and nights of recovery were centered around spa indulgences and the all-you-can-eat buffets.

I will always remember the blissful yoga with instructor Shannon Lashlee. She ended one inspring class with a quote by Lao Tze, the ancient Chinese philosopher who is the father of Taoism, a cool dude:

Watch your thoughts; they become words.

Watch your words; they become actions.

Watch your actions; they become habit.

Watch your habits; they become character.

Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

So this is where I am right now. Hello, transition mode — again. And it feels like a good place to be. xo.

P.S. — Here’s a shot of Gabi in her prom dress. Before the actual event, the parents gathered with the kids in the high school courtyard to take pictures…lots of fun.

Original copyrighted work by Betty Ming Liu

Hey! If you liked this post, you might also be interested in these earlier posts:

How to stretch your dollars at Mohonk Mountain House

Can I be more than Mommy?

Comments 16

  1. Post

    I want to take a moment to thank Gabi for letting me share her life on this blog. As part of her graduation gift, I will pull the curtain closed on her for a while and give her the privacy she deserves. Love you baby girl! xoxoxoxoxo

  2. Congratulations to Gabi and to you! Gabi looks splendid in her prom dress. The world awaits her in the fall. May you survive the great departing!

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      Oh, boo-hoo, Stephen! Thank you for your good wishes. I know Gabi will do great. And so will I. But it’s been funny talking to the parents of these graduating seniors. All my friends and I say to each other is, “Will you be all right?” We are sure the kids will be fine! Haha!

  3. This is great! I was just thinking to myself LAST NIGHT, has Gabi graduated? How is Betty doing? I thank you for sharing your memories and sharing your daughter with us. Please thank her for me, too. It is brave and generous that she would share some of her growing years with us. In my head, I’ve got to respect her privacy too! But I don’t take it for granted that we’ve gotten to know (somewhat) your Princess through these posts. I wish her well!

    Thanks for sharing your emotions with us. It would have been easier to say prom and graduation were a blast. To admit that you entertained some jealous thoughts puts the spotlight on me. Yeah, me. I’ve done that with my child time and time again. Funny, becauset there’s nobody else in the world I have ever felt like this about. I don’t sit and wish for what I don’t have and keeping up with the Joneses is not my thing. I try to look at the big picture and enjoy my blessings, but sometimes…

    I think, hey this kid has a lot more fun than I did. Well, a lot more fun than I do. My child has a lot more confidence, a lot more of a support system, and a lot more love than I ever felt growing up. Hmmm…maybe that’s not so bad after all? Sonetimes I compare my child to the little me. I’m grateful we have those kind of differences. If I want what I’ve given to my child, I need to snap out of it and realize I can give it to myself too. Other wise, I will miss being present in the moment for both of us!

    Again, congrats on all your recent celebrations. Thinking about your canceled prom, I think I would miss it too, years later. But at the time, you were living in the moment! How many high schoolers can say they were that unselfish, thoughtful and politically active? Sounds kind of cool. Oh my, was that too hipster? Connecting an intense time in history with cool points?!

    Here’s to a great summer and new experiences for you and your daughter! It’s a brave new world. The quote by Lao Tze puts things inpperspective. Love it.

    One more thing…Go Gabi! You rocked that dress :-)

    1. Post

      Skye, thanks for the moral support and for your honesty. Last week was so crazy that I actually skipped blogging — haven’t missed posting on a weekly basis for a long time. But I wasn’t ready to admit that I was jealous and I knew I couldn’t get away with writing any old blah-blah because my superficiality would show through.

      We need to applaud ourselves for giving our kids what we wished we had. And we have to remember that many of our own parents had the same good intentions when they ended up inadvertently torturing us or making us miserable in specific instances. But yes, we have to get what we need for ourselves so that we don’t lean on our kids. Think of all the fun you’ll have taking care of you!

  4. Bety & Gabby
    Congradulations! There is a song about graduation I wish to share It from Chicago’s 5th album (1972)
    “Alma Mater”
    Looking back a few short years
    When we made our plans and played the cards
    The way they fell
    Clinging to our confidence
    We stood on the threshold of the goal
    That we knew, dear
    And though we had our fights
    Had our short tempered nights
    It couldn’t pull our dreams apart
    All our needs and all our wants
    Drawn together in our heart
    We felt it from the very start
    It’s all happened recently
    Now we’re living in that dream
    We had not long ago
    Everything is going fine
    And now we just have to keep in mind
    We must set brand new goals
    We must not lose control
    Of the possibility of the discovery
    That would let everybody see
    That we were just meant to be

    I wish her all the best!

    1. Post
  5. Hi Betty!!

    Congrats to your daughter on graduating! I love this post because your words remind me so much of my parents…They always tell my sister, my brother, and me about how they never went out as often as we do when they were our age (mostly because their parents were super-strict!). But, thankfully, over the years, they’ve come to realize that times have changed since their youth, and even though we’re getting more social and busier and maybe even moving further away as we grow older, we are still (and always will be) their babies :)

    Best of luck to Gabi, and, hey, I’ll be starting school not far from you this fall, so if you ever need some company, you know how to find me!!


    1. Post

      Courtney, thanks for giving me the youth perspective — I really need it. It’s a strange feeling to be a parent and to have ZERO EXPERIENTIAL CONTEXT when social things come up. Gabi has a life that is totally foreign to my own experience! Sometimes that makes me sad because I’m clueless as to what’s an acceptable amount of hanging out and what’s excessive. Thankfully, I have been able to get good advice from friends, Gabi’s teachers and….my college students! It all helps. And it’s comforting to read that you fondly indulge your parents. Great to get compassion from our kids. :)

  6. A beautiful daughter and a lot of good living still ahead of you. That person in the shadows draws nearer and fills your life with light. You have a bright future to look forward to. Just keep moving and life will catch up with you.

    1. Post
  7. Betty, you share, “My greater goal is to evolve as a passionate person. Live in the moment with grace while showing kindness to others. Can I do that?”

    You’ve done that repeatedly with others in your honest writings here: Thank you, Betty.

    Gabi looks beautiful in her prom dress.

    Enjoy your “good place to be.”

    1. Post
  8. Congrats on Gabi’s graduation. She looks gorgeous.

    It is great that you are aware of your jealousy regarding your daughter’s choices :) After all, awareness is the first step in growth. Let her go. I am sure you would have vowed that you would never do that to your kid when your parents did that to you!

    As an idea for a blog post (that is if you wish to share with us & it is not too painful) – how did you parents react to your marriage with an African. I believe it was from a sense of rebellion against your parents. I am very curious about this because I am very much aware of the sentiments chinese & east asians have for dark skinned people & you must have been an outcast because of that singular act. I have spent 4 years and counting in south east Asia and still cannot get over how so many people just fawn over white people and are not so nice (ahem, to put it politely) to darker skinned ones.

    Sorry for being so nosy :)

    1. Post

      sos, thanks for your thoughtful comment! Yes, it’s hard to let my baby go. And you’re right, I am now feeling much more compassion for my own mom. Very hard to be a truly grown-up, emotionally secure parent. :)

      As for writing about my interracial marriage, that is a good idea. My ex is actually African-American rather than African-African but same difference to racists. You’d be surprised, though. While we were treated badly in painful instances, we were also considered incredibly cool in other circles — even Asian ones. People are nuts, and that would be one of my points. But once again, I do agree with you, that overall, racism against dark-skinned folk is rampant and, in my opinion, totally unforgivable.

      Thanks for dropping me a line. And btw, hope you’re subscribed to my blog so that when I do write that post about my marriage, you’ll be sure to get an email alerting you to the fact that it’s up. :)

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