The journey with my mother

V. Lee, article author, headshotMY FATHER LEFT on Christmas 2011.

I kind of saw it as a present, rather than a tragedy.

I wouldn’t miss the colored pencil drawings scribbled on the walls, the smell of damp socks, mice poop under furniture, cockroaches creeping through the cracks and dirty dishes on display the majority of the times.

When we were living with my father, we lived in homes in poor condition. He believed, “If it works, it’s good enough.”

He was an engineer. He used to be a math teacher, and he had enough money to travel to so many places, yet he chose this lifestyle. So that’s how we lived.

I didn’t understand why.

“Was our family not worth more than that?” I wondered. But the apart­ment became the only place where I can clearly remember when everyone was together before everything went bad.

We went through a lot in the next five years. But through watching my mother struggle and succeed, I learned how hard work and determination can lead to happiness.

My father left my mother for another woman, who is now his fourth wife. With my father absent, both of my youngest siblings had to go live in Laos because we were struggling financially.

Now it’s just my mother, brother and me. We packed our bags and finally moved out of the apartment we had lived in for more than two years.

When he left, it carved a very bad image of a “man” in my head. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone anymore. I didn’t care about people leaving me. I lost trust in the word “forever.” He had made an oath to my mother, “‘til death do us part.” For a man to break that kind of promise made me afraid of something called “love.”

We were moving to a temporary house in Richfield. It was small, but about twice as large as the apartment. My mother was still trying to buy her own house, continuing a dream she had with my father, but now by herself.

Two days after her birthday in 2012, my mother finally bought a house in St. Paul. The same day, she also bought a brand new red 2012 Toyota Camry.

I felt proud of my mother because of all of her hard work. Even when we didn’t get along, I was still thankful for everything she had to offer for the family. When she achieved her goal, I felt like there was no obstacle for me to reach mine.

When we got into the house, it was unpleasant. The first thing I wanted to do was paint the walls because it showed evidence of misbehaved children, causing a flashback to the apartment. The drawings on the walls weren’t as bad, but they would be the first thing someone would notice if they stepped into the house.

We knew we had to remodel every­thing. The first thing we did was install new toilets. Over time, we repainted the walls, kitchen cabinets and the house. We also removed the carpet, replacing it with wood floors.

I didn’t really help her with the hard work, but I did clean a lot of the mess she made while she was remodeling. This kind of made us become closer because we were creating a family bond – something we barely have – by building a place to call home.

Two years later, my mother’s boss gave her a very special Christmas gift: plane tickets to go get my siblings back in Laos. When we went to thank him, she was crying tears of joy, thanking him in broken English. The happiness I felt was simply not as powerful as my mother’s.

When we went to thank him, I was speechless. I didn’t know how to react because I would have never thought someone was this generous. Also, I was so confused. I wondered what the transition was going to be like.

My siblings are with us now and attending elementary school.

It’s a blessing to have everyone together as a family, despite the fact my father will never be in his position ever again, or any other man. I don’t mind it.

I am thankful for what I have because of where I am now. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, educa­tion and the affection of people around me. But I am truly thankful for my mother’s hard work and dedication to her dream. She was determined, and her kids were her motivation.

Thanks to my mother, four years after my father left, I’m finally living in a nice home environment for once. The house my mother bought is still our home today. It has improved so much since the first day we arrived. The walls are white and the floors are clean. When I take a step in the house, I’m reminded that anyone can do any­thing if they’re dedicated to what they truly desire. This home symbolizes my mother’s hard work.

And my dream is to do better than where I am now, because I am given opportunities my mother didn’t have. You can say I have my mother’s dedication.