“I want to be a financial planner in Hong Kong after I graduate,” I said to my
mother as I applied brown dye to her gray hair. It was a beautiful August day in 2010 and I
had just spent a summer interning at an insurance company in Hong Kong.
“Is that what you really want? Don’t you want to do something more meaningful
with your life, like teaching?” my mom responded. You see, before we immigrated to the
States, my mom was a social worker in Hong Kong, and now she is a family advocate for a non-profit
child care organization in San Francisco. Can you see why she wants me to become a teacher
I quickly thought of a witty response. “Being a financial planner is probably one of
the most meaningful things I can do with my life.” Her gray hair reminded me of her age;
she is only in her late-forties, but she had aged so much in the past few years, worrying about
everything from how to pay the tuition of two college students when my father did not have
a stable job to how to balance her work as she tried to look after my grandmother, who has
reached the terminal stage of cancer. “Some people work all their lives, struggling to
put food on the table and roof over their heads. Without proper planning, they probably will
have to struggle to pay bills during their retirement. Being able to help these people prepare
for the retirement lives they deserve is very meaningful work.”
My mother simply replied, “As long as You’re happy with what you do.”
While I smiled to myself, I also fought back to tears. Tears from knowing that my parents
will probably not be able to afford the live the retirement lives they deserve, not without
my help anyway. I knew that whenever I had my mind set on something, nothing and no one can
get in my way, but the five-year-old inside me longed for her approval and support.
All my life, my mother interfered little with the choices and decisions I made. I had a lot
of freedom over the things I want and don’t want to do. Maybe this is why I still don’t
know how to ride a bike, play the piano, or even swim, to this very day. She never made me
do anything, but yet, she made me do too much.
For as long as I can remember, she always made me share with my brother. She made me do dishes
and help out around the house. She made me translate letters that were too difficult for my
ten-year-old self to comprehend. She made me go to bed at nine pm. When I stopped taking the
school bus to school in sixth grade, she made go to the office every morning to call and let
her know that I had arrived safely. Even as a twenty-one-year-old, my mom still makes me write
down my friends’ names and numbers whenever I stay out past nine at night.
I was suffocated by her expectations and over-protectiveness. I had to get away. I had to
leave. I knew that the only way I can do it was to go to college. I had to do it on my own.
I needed the good grades not only to get into college, but also to get the scholarships to
pay for it. At the time, I didn’t associate college with future success, but rather,
I saw it as an escape. There were numerous times when I wasn’t sure whether I could wait
until I turn 18.
But I made it somehow. Just like with all other decisions I make in life, my mother did not
interfere with my college decision. My dad, on the other hand, tried to bribe me to stay close
to home for college by offering me a car. In the end, I followed my heart and did what I had
always wanted to do…to move out of my house.
People say college is supposed to be a time for self-discovery, and as a soon-to-be college
graduate, I cannot agree with that more. Being at Smith had really given the opportunity to
get to know myself better. Through my academic discussions in classes, casual conversations
with friends, and experiences abroad, I soon realized that the source to my unhappiness at
home was due to the fact that my life is constructed with multiple identities and I didn’t
know how to navigate through life’s journey and how to balance my roles and responsibilities.
My responsibilities as a sister, a daughter, a student, a friend, a Chinese American, a first-generation
college student sometimes get in the way of one another.
I began to understand my mother’s real intentions for me, and feel shameful for always
wanting to leave the safe and warm home she created for us. She made me share with my brother
because I must learn how to interact with my peers and learn that I can’t always get
what I want in life. She made me do dishes and chores because I need these skills to live independently.
She made me translate letters because she wasn’t fortunate enough to have the opportunity
to learn a second language while she was growing up. She made me call her often because she
cares for my safety.