Monday, August 22, 2016

Growing Up Asian

Disclaimer:  I need therapy.

What is normal?  What is right?  What is Wrong?  There is a lot of grey area with raising kids.  Especially when you have to raise them in a different culture or norm than how you were raised.  

I was born in Cambodia in 1977 during the Khmer Rouge reign.  My family fled to Thailand and lived in a refugee camp until 1983, when we immigrated to the USA (Florida).  

Early Years:  
I went to a school that specialize in ESL programs.  There was 1 Kindergarten classes made of all Cambodians.  I came in the middle of the school year so I was placed in the mixed class (ESL students and Non-ESL students).  The first day of school they asked my name.  I said quietly, "Savin." 
"No, we don't want to know your age.  What is your name?"
Louder, "Savin."
"I think she is misunderstanding us.  What is your name?"
"Savin." starting to freak out.
"Chmu Ynuom, Savin." ("My name is Savin.")
Tears are beginning to flow.
Cambodian girl comes over.  "She said her name is Savin."
Needless to say that we became best friends.

School lunches was always a treat, because it was so different than food at home.  We never have fast food or went out to eat.  After 5 years of being in the States, my dad tried a McDonald's drive thru.  It was a disaster, he went through 3 times without being able to order.  I felt so bad for him.  Bread was a new concept to us.  Hotdog was eaten with rice.  What is a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich? 

Every school paper work was done by me.  I filled all the paper work and signed my dad's signature. That was all good until we moved to the suburbs and out of the ESL school.  I got in trouble for forging his signature after he told me to, because he was too tired to sign it.

No Birthday parties or Christmas presents.  There were New Years money.

I was constantly told that I was getting fat and stop eating so much.  My mother nitpicked at everything I did wrong.  I was always doing something wrong and you bet I knew about it.  Be smarter, be cleaner, be a better sister, be a better daughter.  I was never good enough.  I was never praised.  Never, "You look pretty.  You did good on your project.  Thanks for being nice to your baby sister.  Thanks for cleaning.  Thanks for doing what you are suppose to do."  I always got torn down and never got built up.

Mother was working nights and sleeping days and she doesn't have time for me.  No time to show me to comb my hair, dress, or hygiene.  I was in fifth grade when I started my period and I thought I was dying.   I told the teacher, and she tried to explain it to me.  She had to take me outside for this so I thought I was in trouble so I cried. They called my mother, but she didn't say a word to me.  I was given a pad and told to shower and she took me back to school without a word.  A couple of months later we had the special presentation where the boys and girls have to go into different rooms.  That was where I learned about my body.

During the same year, I was recognized as being one of the best in Math skills .  I was chosen to take a special test (I don't remember what it was called, maybe the PSAT, math portion.)  My teacher asked me if someone can take me and if someone couldn't that she would take me.  I really wanted her to take me, but my mom said she could.  I was so disappointed.  We got lost and we were late.  Because she didn't know where to go or what to do.  She made me feel so nervous.

Teenage Years: (This is what I remember most.)
I am the oldest of 3.  I have a younger brother and the baby sister.  In Asian cultures, boys were prized and I knew it.  My brother got away with everything.  He was/is my mother's favorite.  He was her heart.  (I only discover this a few years ago.  I made the comment about how I like having 4 daughters, because they say that daughters will come back to you, but boys go with their wife's family.  She said that was untrue and her son will always choose her first because he is hers.)

The baby sister was pampered and adored and spoiled.

My mom was very honest with me.  She told me everything I was doing wrong.  Her honesty did not have any positive comments.  She was also honest with everyone.  Giving everybody nicknames, (fatty, shorty, blacky, whitey, ... ect. )  Everyone had a label and some was nice, but most wasn't.

No friends.  - They will lead you astray.
You can't talk to boys. - They will get you pregnant.
You are not allowed to go anywhere except home, school, work, and church (limited).
There was no curfew because I wasn't allowed to go anywhere anyways.

They would screen all my calls.  If any boys called they would give them the 3rd degree.  "Who are you?  Are you doctor?  She no want to talk to you.  Bye."  Needless to say I did not get any call backs.

Last year I found out from my mother that my high school crush had a crush on me.  This whole time I thought no one thought I was cute or pretty or even worth anything in high school.  I was indeed part of someone's affection and didn't even know it.

"Sit still, Be a proper lady." (If I didn't, I would get pinched.)
"Do you see that girl?  Why can't you be like her."
"Proper girls stay inside and sit with their mother, and they don't go play with little kids."
"There is only a little more food in this pot.  Here, finish it off."
"You are getting fat."

I didn't get any hugs or kisses or sympathy when I was sad or hurt emotionally.  I cried alone in my room.  I was laughed at when I cried.  I remembered one time when a couple people (Cambodian adults) was making fun about how chubby I was and I cried about it.  Instead of coming to comfort me, my mother apologize to the people and said I was silly and laughed at me.  She told me to stop being rude and stop crying.  They felt bad and wanted to apologize, but my mother told them they didn't need to.

When I talk to her about a serious topic and I get emotional.  She goes and talk about it to someone else and laugh about it.  Currently, I am not good at comforting others.  I try, but it makes me very uncomfortable.

No Sports.  - It is not proper for a girl to play sports.  It is not proper for a girl to do anything except cook, clean, and make their husband happy.  (My dad refused to take me to the doctors to get a physical to try out for soccer, the only sport I was somewhat good at.)

I applied to college and got into UF, FSU, and North Florida.  (It is a waste of money for girls to go to school.)  I decided to go to UF.  My father and I got into a fight about going.  He thinks I should just go to a beauty school.  I got into a four year college and I am going.  No matter what I was determined to go.  I am in debt, but I don't regret going.  It was one of the best things I did for my life.

All my mother's friends would tell her that, "She will get pregnant.  She will get aids... etc."  She told me that she cried everyday when I left.  Guilt was one of her strong weapons, but nothing stopped me.

I was only an hour and a half away from them, but I felt so free.  Yes, I was naive. (Because I wasn't allowed to experience anything.) Yes, I made mistakes.  Yes, it was hard.   I loved it.  I learned so much, not just from books, but also in life.

There were plans of an arrange marriage after college, but I got married with my sweet husband one semester I graduated.  They weren't happy it was a white boy, they learned to be happy about it.  "Well, at least, she didn't get pregnant."

We chose not to live near my parents after we graduated for obvious reasons.  (My husband, "Your mother is going to make you cry all the time.")

Adult Life:
We move closer to them now since we are adults now and they can't control me anymore. (Or so I thought)
They still try to control my life.
"You have to go to work so you can make the most money you can so I can brag about you."
Me - "I want to stay home with my kids.  I will go to work when they go to school."
My mother was so mad.  When I was pregnant with my third and fourth babies.  It wasn't like we couldn't afford our kids, it was because we weren't richer than her friends's kids.
My mother was mad when I traded in a 2005 SUV for a 2003 minivan.  She told me, "Why would anyone trade down?  It makes you look poor."
"Yes, mother we are poor and we are trying not to be in debt."
"You wouldn't have to do that, if you would go to work."

Apparently, I am a horrible, lazy mother who don't know how to take care of my kids.  She is here to rescue them from my bad parenting and bad decision making.

When I told them that I wanted to go to Cambodia, they told me that they were going to disown me and take me out of the inheritance.   They have calm down since then, but still don't like us going.  They have told me everything wrong about our decision, every time she sees me.  My mother have also been working to make my kids hate going to Cambodia.  Every time she sees them she would tell them about the bugs and the heat and there is no donuts and...etc.  Since they can't stop us from going, two weeks ago they bought plane tickets to go to Cambodia, too.  Not in a few months when I have my house and the kids settle in, but a day before we get there.  She says she is going to "help" me.  I don't think I want that kind of help.

I have some of her tendency and I fight it everyday.  This is why I need therapy.


Angela said...

I admire your ability to bite your tongue. Let me assure you that you resemble none of the traits you've described in your post.

Bill Blimes said...

My sweet daughter-in-law. You are seen as an amazing and strong woman by those who know you. You are the best wife my son could have chosen to spend this life with and as the mother of his children. I am happy to be your friend and your mother-in-law. Your decision to move to Cambodia will benefit yourself and each member of your family.
You are loved and appreciated by your many friends and your family. You have taught me so much about your Cambodian culture. I love your plan to learn more of your heritage and teach your daughters their cultural heritage. This move is a great adventure and learning experience. Enjoy each moment with your extended family and share with them your knowledge of the good things in this world.