• Kathy Chin Leong

A Mother’s Day Tribute: I Admit It, I was one Naughty Child


Seizing the steering wheel with whitened knuckles, I felt the rush of adrenalin lighting up my veins. I flicked the key, transforming the engine into a roaring lion. There was no turning back now. As I popped the brake release, the car rolled down the hill. “Press the gas,” I instructed myself. And the behemoth of this navy, Rambler station wagon lunged forward, snapping my neighbor’s new tree in half like a toothpick. Onlookers gathered, and someone ran to fetch my parents. When they arrived, I did what any eight-year-old kid about to get in SERIOUS TROUBLE would do… I pretended to be unconscious.


That day, my mother sprouted a dozen white hairs. When I think of how much I put that poor woman through, she deserves more than a dozen measly roses on Mother’s Day. If there were such a thing as kiddie jail, my antics alone would have put me behind bars for life.

As my mother was a Hong Kong immigrant who spoke little English and knew nothing of Western customs, she had no idea how to raise her first born child, a Chinese girl who wanted to be American in every way. I was what they used to call a “tomboy” back then. Instead of tucking a doll inside my brother’s old baby stroller, I used it as a trailer in the backyard to collect snails. I proudly hunted down about 100 of them. I carefully placed the little guys on a newspaper under my bed so I could play with them anytime I wanted.

I defied her when she wanted to enroll me in Chinese school. I talked back disrespectfully when other Chinese kids would never dare to do so. I would go to a Girl Scout baking day and not leave the phone number so she would not bother me.

The supreme battle of the wills erupted when she laid down the law and refused to sign the permission slip for a camping weekend with the scouts. The idea of sleeping on the ground in a forest appalled her sensibilities. In her mind, the lions and bears would attack and kill me, leaving her only with one child, my brother.


By the time the teenage years came along, more misunderstandings ensued, but now I had more context. Mary, my walking-home-from-school companion, said she wished her mother cared about her as much as my hyper-protective mom cared about me. Mary’s mother would later leave the family for another man the following year. Linda, who adored her mom, would later lose her mother to liver cancer before we graduated.


By college, Mom and I declared an unspoken truce. She posted no objections when I decided to pursue a journalism degree at San Jose State. In fact, she was pursuing her own degree in accounting, also at SJSU. Once I heard her calling my name on campus, and I had to look twice. There she was, lugging an armful of books, walking with fellow students who were my age, proudly introducing them to me. I was equally proud when I would come home from classes and see her hosting a study group in our dining room filled with students of all ethnicities. And, of course, the table would be littered with Chinese snacks so no one would go hungry.

Not only did she earn her bachelor’s degree while babysitting ten children, struggling to understand textbooks in English, attending night classes, and caring for the family, she valiantly rose to the challenge of being a single mother after my parent’s divorce. To keep the household afloat, Mom worked as a bank teller for years until she retired.


Today, Susie Chin, known as Popo to her grandkids, is a fragile, but strong-willed eighty-two-year old. If she didn’t dye her hair, you’d see a head full of snowy white strands. Each represents a badge of honor from patiently loving and enduring not just my defiance but the naughty foibles but all three of us adult children and her five grandchildren. Happy Mother’s Day, Popo! You deserve another BA degree, the B.A. for Being Awesome!

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