Anyway, my mother got in touch with me back in October. No biggie, except I hadn't talked to her since my dad divorced her some 14 years ago. Anyway, apparently she wanted us to visit, so my brother and I went to visit her at her home in a suburb of St. Louis.
The big surprise was how her isolation (both circumstantial and self-motivated) had affected her mentally. It seems apparent that she probably thinks through lots of things, but only to herself, without a sounding board. This has resulted in her developing some pretty severe paranoia: she thinks my dad is trying to kill her, that the police want to seize her assets, that her neighbors are out to get her, etc etc. Now, I'm sure there's some basis in reality or something that got her started on these thought processes, but I think that's about it. Another concrete example of her paranoia would be how she uses a steering wheel lock (which can apparently be opened using a ballpoint pen), even though she parks her car in her garage in an upscale suburb.
The rest of the trip was pretty much what I expected. I remembered my mother as very Korean, very conservative, and rather judgemental. Granted, she always wanted what was best for her children, but what she wanted is very different from what I want/wanted. Within the first five minutes of our arrival at her home, she was asking me why my hair was orange, and critcizing the color, saying I wouldn't be able to get a job, and the only person she'd seen with hair color like mine was her trash collector. This criticism of my hair was a recurring theme all weekend.
Her traditional values include getting married, and she spent much time questioning me about what I do, and how I plan on supporting a family some day. As I grew aggravated with this line of conversation (I should note that most everything that was said was in Korean, as her English is very weak), I flippantly asked what if I didn't get married. She had a slight fit, and started harrasing me as to why I wouldn't want to get married. Being the sarcastic guy I am, I then tried the "What if I'm gay?" card. Whoa . . . talk about pushing buttons. I was then informed that I couldn't be gay because both my mother and father were straight, hence I was straight. Right.
Along the genetic lines, I was also informed that I have to be careful about divorce, since on my dad's side of the family, there have been two divorces (my dad and his sister), and divorce runs in the blood. Her family is good, with her brother having a good marriage - though it sounded as if her mother had been divorced or abandonded. This seemed to be one of the ideas she had percolated herself in her isolation, that didn't really add up in my mind.
One other issue I remember being critical for her was money. No surprises there either, even though her sense of the dollar is very skewed from my perspective. She lives in a nice, upscale suburb, in a 3 bedroom home, I'd guess it's value at close to $200k, and she drives a Volvo S60. Apparently she drove a nicer Volvo when she first got out there, but got in an accident, and then bought a "cheap" car. Now, all this coming from someone who's barely worked a day in her life, and has lived off my dad's alimony payments for the last 14 years. Somewhere along the line she's badmouthing the other families in the neighborhood, saying that their kids have to work to get through college, at which point I point out that my brother and I both put ourselves through school. Yes it was primarily scholarships, but the point being that it's not uncommon for parents to not pay for college educations. She had another moment here, as she was talking about how their had been money saved for us for college before the divorce, and she didn't get any of it, and how we need to demand the money from our father. Right . . . I was only enough when my parents got divorced to realize that the money saved for college had probably gone into either the new home, alimony, or something else, and didn't expect it to pay for school, much less feel entitled to anything of that magnitude.
Anyway, she had wanted my brother and I to visit, mainly because she was concerned about her safety (remember, my dad's trying to kill her), and didn't want to live alone. She offered to buy a house in Montana, and I could live with her for free, she'd cook/clean/etc - as long as I lived with her until I got married.
So, my feelings toward my mother have generally wavered between indifference and dislike. When I was younger, I fought with her a lot, mainly over her ridiculous expectations but I wouldn't say I hated her. One of my strongest memories is how when I was in 7th grade, I took the SAT and got a 1060 (equivalent to an 1150 after the re-centering of scores) and was rather pleased with myself, and announced my score to her when I got home. Without even looking at the score, she starts yelling at me, asking me why I only got a 1050. Ends up she didn't have a clue about the SAT and the scoring (or perhaps she was comparing my score to the scores she'd heard in the Korean community, most likely of college bound juniors/seniors). Not a pleasant day in my life.
Some people have asked me if I feel any connection to her, but my answer has been no. Yes, biologically she's my mother, but I don't feel I owe her anything, and I don't feel any desire to help her. I would have been perfectly content to live the rest of my life with never talking to her again. Now that I have, I do feel some obligation because she's asked for help and I can't really say no to her. I'm not sure what I can do to help though - I'm not going to live with her. She's got some legal stuff she needs to take care of, but again, I can't really do much for her considering I live 1500 miles away.
She asked if she needs to be put into a nursing home, if my brother and I would take care of it, and we said yes. She also has a backup in that her brother in Korea has said he would do it, but she doesn't like that idea since all he would do is arrange for the financial details and not visit or do anything else. I kept thinking to myself that's all I would do too - make sure her finances were in order, figure out what kind of care can be provided within the cost limits, and make sure the bills get paid.
My brother was asking if I ever thought I'd visit again, even once a year, and my answer was no. I really don't like dealing with the closemindedness, the awkwardness of not being able to communicate clearly, her prejudices, etc etc. I also know that if I had been there much longer I probably would have gotten into a fight with her, instead of just biting my tongue or making snide remarks to my brother in English.
I don't know . . . we'll see how this plays out in the future . . .