5 lessons I learned from my mom

“But behind all your stories is always your mother’s stories, because hers is where yours begins.” – Mitch Albom, ‘For One More Day’

Before there was Nana Lai (me!), there was Mama Lai. Here’s a short version of Mama Lai’s story:

Esther was born in a rural village in Toisan, Southern China. At the age of six, she escapes to Hong Kong with her mother and brother. She goes to school, works, and eventually becomes a Christian missionary. When she was 25, she moves to New York with her mother and brother. She reunites and sees her father for the first time.(Previously, he worked in Cuba for 14 years) After six months on the icy streets of New York, Esther decides to move and start a life in Oakland, CA. She meets my father in church. They marry and have four kids within the span of six years. They raise their children in a Bay Area suburb. She likes having new experiences, following NBA basketball, and traveling on cruises.

With this life experience, Mama Lai has wisdom popping out of her veins. She consistently texts me words of knowledge.

In addition to being my personalized NBA update texting service, my mom has taught me many life lessons.

Here are 5 lessons my mom role modeled for me:

5. Know How To Cook

My mom’s love language is food. She will call on the weekend and say “Hey, Na. Want to come over from dinner? I’m making sparerib.” BOOM. I go over and she has a meal.

Standard day after Thanksgiving meal

Growing up, I had home cooked meals every night. Mama Lai takes pride in her cooking ability, and she can make a wide range of dishes- from Chinese dishes (eggplant stir fry, bitter melon with chicken, and ToiSan soups) to American dishes ( chicken cacciatore, lasagna, and oxtail stew). If you have had one of my mom’s meals, you will remember it. My high school friends still talk about her Chinese chicken salad.

Cooking is a practical life skill. It’s a way to bring people together, and a method of showing you care.

4. Accept Yourself. If You Don’t Accept Yourself, Nobody Else Will.

Physical challenges have always been present in my mom’s life. Growing up in the rural village in China, she caught polio at a young age. This condition stunted the development and growth in her left leg, resulting in a walking limitation for rest of her life. While she could pity herself for not being as mobile or looking as others do, she chooses to accept herself and her situation.

Step aside Chinese tour guide, Mama Lai will show you how it’s done…

In the same way, my mom’s personality is unique. Mama Lai says some pretty off-handed, candid comments. A friend once described her as a “breath of fresh air” amongst all the other suburban moms. God didn’t make my mom like other people. So, she doesn’t try to be other people.

3. Listen to People. Be Trustworthy. Keep Your Word. 

Through the years, I’ve noticed several people confide in my mom. They open up to her because she is a good listener and trustworthy. She won’t share other people’s secrets. She is present and with the other person. Being a good listener is actually really hard. At times, people aren’t really listening and they have an agenda for what to say.

Mama Lai raised four kids. How she did this, I do not know…

My mom always said she doesn’t want to over promise and under deliver. Your words mean something. Don’t say something you can’t follow up on.  Mama Lai has several common phrases, and one is “It’s your word.” Be someone of your word.

2. Persevere Through Life. You Will Face Challenges. Be Tough.

Generational grit can run in families. My grandmother (奶奶; my mom’s mom) was a tough cookie. She raised two children in communist China and faced unthinkable challenges. The communist soldiers humiliated her, making her kneel on broken glass as they yelled at her in front of other villagers. My grandmother said she would have committed suicide, if it weren’t for her children. She immigrated to Hong Kong and worked 12+ hour days as a seamstress, all in the name of providing for her family.

My grandpa, grandma, mom, and uncle (her brother)

My mom adopted that tough mentality that was modeled by my grandma. My Mom has faced the challenges that come with a walking disability- limited accessibility, discrimination, and misunderstanding. She’s also faced the common challenges that come with immigration, marriage, parenting, etc. But she has persevered and got through them. You don’t shy away from your problems; you go through them.

In turn, I try to follow my grandma and mom’s example. I can face hard times. But if they can persevere, so can I. Determined and strong females run in my family.

1. Live With Joy.

When my mom had a spinal cord injury accident in 2014, I asked her what’s one thing the situation has taught her.

“Enjoy each day. Live it to the fullest. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.”

More than anything, Mama Lai has taught me to enjoy life and have a good time. Don’t let circumstances or situations define you- choose to be positive and be in the moment.

My mom and I during her surprise birthday party (April 2008)

Enjoy the simple pleasures of life. My mom enjoys sitting on a bench by the ocean, catching up with a friend, and following Spurs games on her phone. Another Mama Lai saying: “I don’t want to be all doom and gloom”. 

When I asked my mom what I learned from her, she said “I don’t know if you learned anything from me.”

Oh, snap. Maybe the best lesson I learned from my mom is to be quick witted and always have a comeback.

What lessons have you learned from your mom?

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