She grew up understanding the meaning of sacrifice in a way Merriam-Webster could never articulate. It was the name her grandmother handpicked for her–the firstborn grandchild of her firstborn son. It enveloped her in never-ending stories of her parent’s immigrant life. She was born surrounded by Great Expectations–Charles Dickens couldn’t even conceive of the way her mere existence embodied her parents’ hopes and dreams. She knew her parent’s sacrifices, and comprehended their desire for her academic success. How would you feel if you invested over 80% of your annual income into your child’s education and she brought home B+s?
She is from frustration–shouting, screaming, tears. Every semester when grades came home. Inevitable. She feared that letter–she would run in the house in anxious anticipation when she knew grades had been sent out. If she knew she hadn’t done particularly well that quarter, she would hide it and swear to herself to “work harder” to make the semester grade–the grade that “counted”–better.
She knew her father’s intentions. They say that actions speak louder than words.
But sometimes negative words hurt so much more than sacrificial actions. It was easier for her to see the frustration boiling in his eyes then remember the 10-year-old civic stick shift, without air conditioning, automatic doors, or automatic windows that her father drove. She lived to please, to bring peace to her already tumultuous family. She felt fully responsible for her family’s happiness. It was simple, really, all she had to do was bring home As. All she had to do was to listen and be a good girl and do what her parents told her to do. All she had to do was be a positive role model for her brothers. All she had to do was do her best–which meant in her father’s eyes, being the best.
She was gifted all the advantages and disadvantages of being the first child and the only daughter. Her father saw in her unlimited possibilities–a future Feynman or the next Steve Jobs. Each B+ for him was one more step away from those possibilities–how could MIT, or Reed College, or any school “worth going to,” ever accept anything lower than a 4.0?
She vividly remembers going on college tours starting in 7th grade. That doesn’t even begin to cover the amount of time she spent growing up on college campuses. Baby pictures all around UCLA, a full Harvard outfit, more college apparel than a high school junior at the age of five. College was never a question–only which one would accept her, if she got anything but As.
How do you tell the salutatorian of UCLA’s School of Engineering that you got a B+ in pre-calc after he worked with you on math problems every weekend since you were three? How do you tell a man who got his PhD in Engineering, on a full scholarship which required him to have an A- average while working full time to support his family, that you couldn’t get an A or even an A- in trigonometry?
She sacrificed her sleep, her friends, and her sanity to live up to his expectations, but they never seemed enough. What use were her sacrifices if they didn’t result in anything?
She took on every honors or AP math course offered, and slowly realized that math just didn’t come to her the way her father had hoped. One day he finally stopped believing that her mathematical limit did not exist. He no longer disbelieved her when she told him that that B+ was a whole semester of missed opportunities, forgotten friends, and weekends alone.
When her dad scanned her first semester senior year report card and his eyes landed on her AP Stat B+, he swore a little under his breath, patted her on the back, and went to his room. No more yelling, no more blaming, no more anger taken out on every member of the family for her own individual failure.
But the funniest thing is, it hurt more to see him accept what at the time I saw as my failure, than when I knew he was only yelling because he thought I could succeed.