• Lydia Chu

My mother

Updated: Jun 18, 2019

When I was growing up, I didn't have a close loving relationship with my mother. I was the middle child and the eldest daughter of five children.




My mother and I in Napa 2017

My mother is currently 80 years old, born September 29, 1938 in South Korea. My mother was the third child out of four children. When my grandfather took on a second wife and had three more children when my mother was just six years old, my grandmother ran off with another man leaving her four young children motherless.


In the early years in Korea, women were not allowed to have custody of her children in case of marriage breakups regardless of the reason so if a woman wanted to leave her husband, she had no choice but to give up everything including her children. My grandmother eventually came back into my mother's life eleven years later when my mother was 17 years old. Since then, they tried to rebuild their relationship but they never became close. After having a rocky mother and daughter relationship for the remaining of my grandmother's life, my grandmother past away at the age of 77.


My mother (on the right) in her early twenties

Before the war, my grandfather was a business man who did well financially, but when the Korean war broke out, he lost everything, and my mother at the young age of 12 had to work beside my grandfather to make ends meet while taking on the motherly role in raising her young siblings. For the next three years, she experienced bullets flying over her head and witnessed deaths as she tried to survive the war.


Like most people after the war, my mother and her family struggled in poverty, and this is when she learned how to sew to become a tailor. Little did she know that this sewing skill my mother had learned at the time would be used to put all five of us through college and taught me the skills to open the business I have today.

When my mother was 22, she met my father through an acquaintance and dated for two years until they got married on April 2, 1962. Back then, my parents were so poor that my mother couldn't even afford to wear a traditional wedding dress my mother had always wanted, and they had to start a new life with basically nothing. As the story goes, they couldn't even afford a table so they had to use a cardboard box as a dining table until they could afford one.

My parents with their first child

My mother became a housewife as my father worked as a customs house agent for the government until we moved to the United States. Like most young women in those days, my mother was taught to serve men so she believed that her primary role was to be a good housewife. This is how she defined her identity and worked hard at it.


With my father working hard to provide for his growing family and my mother's savvy skills at managing money, they eventually saved enough money to buy a decent house in Korea. Even though we were not wealthy, we had a roof over our heads and food on the table. My mother was a person of integrity with a strong work ethic, and with my father's help, she did everything she could to raise her five children.


Despite doing fairly well financially in Korea, my parents decided to move to the United States in 1976 when my mother was just 38 years old. Even though the Korean war lasted only three years and was over, the tension between North and South Korea continued and most Koreans continued to live in fear of another war. For this reason, my parents decided to move in the hopes of sparing us from what they had gone through during the war and to give us a better life.


Family picture before moving to the US in 1976

My parents had $1400 in their pockets when we moved to the United States to start a new life. My mother went into another survival mode as she along with my father worked extremely hard for the next 15 years. My parents worked round the clock sewing clothes so they could put all of us through college and two of my brothers through medical schools. Eventually, it took a toll on my mother's health. As my mother worked round the clock, she neglected her health and ended up paying the price.


Not knowing anything about proper nutrition or exercise, my mother relied on a SAD diet (Standard American diet) of fast food and plenty of meat. It wasn't long before she began to suffer many health issues and started relying heavily on over-the-counter medications like Anacin to get her through the long working hours.


My mother at her heaviest

Within five years of living in the United States, my mother gained over 50 pounds and was weighing about 170 pounds at 5'1" frame. When we were living in Korea, she had weighed barely over 110 pounds even after giving birth to five children. For the next 20 years, she suffered greatly as she dealt with obesity, arthritis, back problems, frozen shoulders, diabetes and other health issues. To get better and lose weight, she tried a lot of different things like herbal medicine, acupuncture, conventional medicine, various diets and even fasting.


Desperate to get better, she even went back to Korea and tried medical supervised fasting for 10 days in 1995. With fasting and better taking care of herself, she ended up losing about 40 pounds and had cured many of her health issues she was dealing with at that time. Since then, she tried relentlessly to keep her weight off and stay healthy, but ended up gaining back about 20 pounds along with some other medical problems.


My mother tried taking conventional medications to help with her medical issues, but when she did, her conditions actually worsened and the doctors were helpless to help her. I remember going to the doctor's office with my mother and coming home with a lot of different medications. Unfortunately, none of the medications worked and only gave her side effects that required her to take more medications. I watched her helplessly as she suffered not knowing what to do.


Then, as she had many times in her life, she went into another survival mode as she

Girls with grandma in Korea in 2016

took charge of her health and started taking care of herself better. She stopped taking medications and started taking care of herself with diet and exercise. She slowly began to get better and has managed to overcome a lot of her health issues over the last ten years. Even though she has been able to keep some of her unwanted weight off and gotten some of her health back, she still suffers from diabetes and is currently about 20 pounds overweight. With my help, she's currently focusing on a healthy lifestyle and working hard to reverse her diabetes through diet and exercise.


When I was growing up, we never talked about things as some mothers and daughters do. My mother was never affectionate toward her kids and thought affection was a sign of weakness. She was a traditional woman with traditional values who went through a lot of in her life. She grew up part of her life without a mother, went through a war, survived a poverty and went through a tremendous hardship trying to raise five kids in a foreign country where she didn't even speak English. It's hard for me to imagine what that must have been like and I don't think I will ever know.


My mother's birthday celebration in 2018

My mother was not a perfect mother nor a loving one at least not in an affectionate way but she did everything she could the way she knew how. Now as she gets older with more wrinkles each time I see her, most of her strength is gone along with that fire she had in her eyes when we first came to this country for a better life, but one thing she hasn't lost is the love she has for her children. I'm realizing that we're still her children no matter how old we are, and her love for us still lives in her heart and I know that's something that will never change.


We are now closer than ever, and I'm forever grateful to my mother who has given up so much of herself so I can have a better life. Even though we had our differences when I was growing up, she tried her best to always be there for me and love me unconditionally. I couldn't really appreciate my mother for everything she did for me until I became a mother myself. Her unconditional love continues to inspire me to be a better mother to my daughters, and I couldn't be more thankful.


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