My Moms Meet

This is Part Three of a series on our 2017 birth family visit. Click to read Parts One and Two.


One of the highlights of my birth family visit was Omma meeting my parents for the first time. They live in Columbus, OH and everything was a time crunch, so we met in the middle in Louisville, KY for just a few hours one afternoon (adding yet another city to the Jeon Whirlwind World Tour itinerary).

We got up in the morning and drove the three hours there without much to-do. Omma was pretty quiet. I asked if she was nervous and said no. She stared out the window the whole trip, noting how much green we have around us (Seoul is the definition of a concrete jungle). I had worked hard to try to plan the perfect setting for our meet-up, but having never lived in Louisville and knowing so little about the area, there certainly was much left to be desired in terms of setting up the visit for success.

We arrived at the designated brunch place and my parents were already there. It was crowded and noisy. They stood to greet us and there were hugs and smiles all around. We sat and ordered and our table was pretty quiet, in contrast to the bustle around us. My mom pulled out a photo book that she had put together for Omma. It contained a bunch of pictures from my baby years til present. She said it was hers to take home to Korea and Omma was grateful. She perused and asked an occasional question – “When was this? Oh, it was a costume for Halloween?” – but she was generally quiet. I kept asking if she had any questions or wanted me to translate anything for her. She said repeatedly, “Just thanks.”

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I wouldn’t say the meeting went badly. I would say I know my Omma and she was not herself. We normally can’t get a word in edgewise anytime she is around, but we had to practically drag each word out of her. I think not having Appa there was part of it. I think it felt too insecure.

After lunch, we went and had coffee and talked a little more. Omma warmed a little but she was still pretty quiet. I asked again if she had anything to say or ask. She said no. After awhile we said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways for the 3 hour return drive.

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We got in the car and as I chatted with Lee up front, I became aware of the conversation in the backseat. I asked Hyunbae what was up. Omma was back to her normal self and chattering away. He said, “She says she had a lot to say and questions to ask but she didn’t want to let them see her tears.”

That damned Korean pride.

I turned around in my seat and felt every emotion. I was sad. I was sad she had missed probably her only opportunity to communicate with my folks what she’d stored up for 30 years. I have no idea what it is she’d want to say, but whatever it was, the opportunity was gone.

I was mad. I gave you every opportunity, woman! I asked you a million times. We drove you six hours to come and sit politely with your hands in your lap and not say anything.

I was heartbroken. For her and her sense of peace, or lack thereof. What could have been such a cathartic experience for her was really quite forgettable. I know how Korean norms work with saving face, but was this not an extenuating circumstance? You traveled over 10,000 miles here for this. Was it worth it?

I was frustrated, with her and with myself. I had done everything I could to make the situation as successful as possible, but I felt like I had failed. I had not managed my expectations well and I was disappointed with Omma’s response. That was on me.

We drove home and though the experience was not all I had wanted it to be for my Omma’s sake, she seemed generally content with it. She looked through the photo book again and asked some more questions about my siblings and other major life events. Hyunbae took pictures to send home to Appa (even though he’d soon have the original photo book in his possession). Though I don’t think it’s possible, I hope Omma does not have any regrets about the meeting – of what she could or should have expressed.

Maybe I just selfishly wish she would have released some of that pent-up emotion while she was with them, rather than again directing the explosion solely at me.


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