Wednesday, May 09, 2012
Lessons from a Korean mother-in-law
“That’s my son!”, my mother-in-law exclaimed. Her frail weathered hands grasped the side of the coloured photo. Of the handful of pictures we had together she stopped to comment on this one.
“How do you know it’s him? You can only see the back of a head?” I replied.
“Yes, but I know my son from the back of his head. Why is he cleaning the toilet!” she exclaimed, rather than questioned.
It was true. I had snapped the photo of Sung Hyun cleaning my toilet in the quaint little apartment down the street from the English academy that I worked at. Somehow in the plethora of photos I had on my memory stick, this one got printed.
My mother-in-law, a hard working old lady visibly affected by the long hours of manual labour, believed it was the daughter-in-law’s responsibility to be the primary caregiver, the only caregiver. Women belonged in the home. Men belonged in the workplace. The lines were clear and not to be crossed.
But lines didn’t exist in our relationship. Because when two people come together who don’t speak the same language, success for us was measured in our ability to convey a simple message. That part was hard enough.
Six months of living with my mother-in-law was a gift. I didn’t realize how precious it was at the moment. The moment she’d hit me for not obeying her rules. The moment she’d open the bathroom door mid-shower to tell me my phone was ringing. The moment she went off on a tangent about how so and so was cheating with so and so in her favourite afternoon drama.
I didn’t understand most of these moments. But I felt them. I felt them enough to allow myself to take a step back and enjoy them for what they were. I laughed. We laughed! The one pre-requisite for anyone deciding to live with their Korean mother-in-law would be to come with an open heart and open mind. Of course a sense of humour is certainly helpful.
This is a post dedicated to a mother-in-law that I deeply love and dearly miss.