The inspiration to write comes from many sources, and right now it is that my son has just turned 18 and is graduating from high school. The momentous event of becoming an adult is both a cause for celebration, and a time for reflection of the passing of childhood.
For me, the thought of our first-born leaving home to go to college makes me feel at a loss, as so much of my life has been centered on raising my children as a stay at home mom, and my identity has been intertwined with motherhood. Letting go of a child is much harder than holding on, because it is so against my maternal nature. It is also difficult to let go of the “mother persona” I identified myself with for so long, but with great sadness and melancholy, I know I must gradually learn to let go.
One way I am letting go is through writing. In my book, I examine how grandmothers and mothers before me figured out how to let go when the time was right or because circumstances demanded it. Maybe it was not at a defined moment, like graduation, or turning 18. Maybe it was a lot earlier, like when my paternal grandmother had to let my father go when he was only 11 to live in a boarding house while she was working at the hospital. Or when my maternal grandmother had to rely on my 12 year old mother to hold her younger siblings’ hands while they marched south to flee from the Communists. The moment of adulthood began a lot earlier in prior generations. Through writing, I reflect on how growing up is determined by the social context in which we live.
Somehow, my writing journey has spurred my own mother to write. She wrote a long letter to my son on his 18th birthday, in Korean. She said if I am going to write, she wants to start writing too. She has always regretted not being able to speak to her grandson adequately in English, so she wrote a letter to him in Korean. My mother asked her friend to translate her letter, and I helped refine it. Here is a shorter version of her letter.
To my beloved Grandson Matthew,
I can’t believe it’s been 18 years since you were born. I still remember vividly the day I first saw you at the hospital. It was amazing to see you crying with your eyes closed shut and your hands clenched tightly….
I am so happy that you have grown up to be a fine, healthy and kind young man. Congratulations on turning 18 and becoming an adult! No matter how old you are, you will always be a well-mannered and handsome young boy to me. But the world will look to you as an adult now. And being an adult doesn’t mean that life will become easier. Rather, there will be many difficult times when you will face hardships. Remember that this is not just happening to you. If you think of it as a part of life, you will be able to overcome these hardships with resolve and determination. You will look back on these moments and realize they were happy times….
To be successful, you must think about things positively. In life, there’s good and bad, and that is true in the way you think too. If you think about things negatively, you begin to live that way. But if you see things in a positive light, you will see the beauty of life….
Even though you are now an adult, your mom and dad will always be there for you. Whenever you feel upset, know that you are not alone, and feel free to talk to them about anything. It would be nice if you would think of your grandma and grandpa once in a while too!
I would like to share these three goals by Steve Jobs:
1) Stay Hungry
2) Stay Foolish
3) Think Differently
(translated from Korean)
My mother’s words of wisdom are heartfelt and universal. I know we could all relate to these simple words, in whatever language. Life doesn’t get easier as an adult, but with patience, determination and positive thinking, life can be beautiful. Thinking like Steve Jobs can very well be the key to success!
The importance of family, love, legacy, and the passage of time is highlighted by graduation and other significant life events. In this “graduation” season, I hope you find that by letting go, you might discover something even more beautiful ahead.
Leave a comment with your thoughts.