Why you should care
Because this is where we all come from.
There’s not much that Mama Choi has done to surprise me, because she’s done it all and been to hell and back. But she has done plenty for me to be in complete admiration and adoration. When she was 22, she left her family and her motherland, South Korea, to move to western Germany to work as a nurse and send money back home to her family (she has four sisters and two brothers). Six years later, she married Papa Choi and moved to the States, working six days a week, speaking little to no English and never taking a sick day, all the while raising three children during a time and in a society that was not always kind. She is the epitome of superhuman and has taught me to take nothing for granted — and that if you’re passionate, driven and willing to persevere, you can overcome any adversity life throws at you. She’s more than just my mom; she’s one of the strongest souls I know, and all that I am is because of her. 엄마, 너무 사랑해.
ANDREA GARCIA VARGAS
One thing that surprises me about my mother: her relentless, resilient and rebellious spirit. I wish I had even 1 percent of it. Once when she was 6 or 7 months pregnant with me and in the front seat of a car, some vandal was trying to break her mirrors. She wouldn’t have it. So she stepped out of the car with a stick in her hand, tossing it from one hand to the other while asking the guy, “What do you think you’re doing?” All while 6 or 7 months pregnant with me. My mom has serious guts, and I’m amazed daily that 27 years later, that hasn’t worn away.
There are a lot of things that constantly surprise about my momma — least of which is her uncanny ability to remember the full name, face and fun fact about every human she’s ever met, thus constantly connecting with new friends everywhere. But I think what most stands out in my mind is my mother’s ability to adapt, thrive and always hold us down. As the oldest child, I’ve seen my mom go from hotel-events superstar to student to entrepreneur to teacher with a side hustle, all while being there — always — for her house full of boys, now men. She loves unconditionally, is fiercely loyal and always lends an open ear before dropping needed knowledge. That’s undoubtedly why she connects with so many students too.
My mother surprises me every day — her generosity, love for her family, ability to still surf and be so incredibly active, and her constant desire to learn new things, from salsa dancing to a new language. I find I am turning into her more and more every day.
It’s hard to pinpoint one outstanding memory of my mom being awesome because she’s just consistently awesome. She was always there for my sister and me when we were growing up. I could — and still can — talk to her about anything. She’s never judgmental, always listens to me like I’m the most important person in the world and offers the best advice. I know it’s cheesy, but I wouldn’t be the person I am or have the life I do without her! Once when I was 7, I was at a diner with my parents for brunch. I was fooling around and thought it would be funny to put my legs through the back of the chair. All of a sudden I realized I was stuck. Just as I started to panic, my mom came to the rescue. She helped me take off my pants while discreetly covering my butt from view and slowly pulled my legs out from the evil clutches of the diner chair. That’s Mom — always jumping into action to pull me out (sometimes literally) of whatever ridiculous situation I’ve gotten myself into.
There’s no one I’ve fought with more. And there’s no one I’ve loved more. My Amma — mother in Tamil — is the single-most hardworking, resilient and driven person I know. Once she sets her mind to anything, she will get it done, whether it’s piercing through layers of India’s infamous bureaucracy to get her pension account opened, or — when I was young — juggling a full-time teaching job, household chores and taking care of her child. I’m convinced she would have made a great detective. Somehow, she would always know if I was keeping something from her — or, as a teenager, hiding cigarettes in my bag. She sets high standards for herself and others. Learning to do less than she always has as she ages is her big struggle at the moment. I can’t begin to list all that she’s taught me, knowingly and otherwise. But I know it’s more than I’ll ever need in a single lifetime.
My mom and my grandmother, both teachers by training, were the two most important people to me as a child (both pictured; I’m in the red shorts, sitting next to my cousin). Divorced when I was little, my mom found herself without up-to-date credentials and in need of a job. So, despite having a college degree and experience, she ended up working in a factory for years just to make ends meet. I’ve always been in awe of my mother’s ability to manage and to make things work. If her car broke down and she couldn’t afford repairs, she’d get a manual from the library and replace her own radiator. She also has a fantastic sense of adventure. When I was in grad school, she Eurailed around Europe by herself, staying in hostels and making friends from around the world. One summer day, in Michigan, she had me drop her off along a little river near my grandpa’s cabin with her kayak, telling me to pick her up later at Lake Michigan (a 1.5-hour drive away). These days, I love seeing her interact with my own daughters — she’s instilling a can-do attitude in them and helping raise them, just as my grandmother did me. She’s my dearest friend, and I’m so very grateful for her love and guidance.
As if having 10 children weren’t enough. As if having rebuilt her career after two decades raising said children. As if having run two marathons in the last two years and, in general, being a light to all around her. As if all that weren’t enough, my mom has also been a rock during some of our family’s most difficult times this last year. She’s been an inspiration to me, teaching empathy, humility and curiosity, and I’m so thankful of the way she taught me to never be afraid to take an opportunity.
One thing that surprises me about my mother: her quirky sense of fashion. She loves to wear ridiculous graphic T-shirts that say things like “EAT. SLEEP. SLAY” or “I woke up like this.” I’ve always admired her glowing personality and style. She’s spent the last 23 years raising me and my six siblings and somehow manages to look gorgeous at all times! I love my mom!
Having seen my mom all my life, I know the tremendous perseverance and willpower she has on the inside despite a very calm, almost nonchalant, exterior. She looked after four of us siblings while my dad worked abroad. My youngest sister suffered brain damage due to typhoid at the age of 2. Medical professionals said she would be a vegetable all her life and gave up on her. Not my mom: She would send the rest of us to school and then take my little sister to the hospital 60 kilometers away for physical therapy. My sister relearned to walk, talk and clap. Her progress was slow and painful. Schools refused to accept her. They refused to let her graduate. But my mother was dogged and they finally did let her graduate. People then asked my mother: “Are you happy now?” Nope. My mom made sure my sister could take care of herself. She made sure my sister earned her teacher’s diploma and started teaching kindergarten. My mom wanted my sister to have her own family. Everyone said she was crazy. But again, things worked out. My sister married a wonderful man. Today she’s a teacher, has her own family with two sweet little angels. The other three siblings did very well too. All are happily settled around the world. My mom has taught me that nothing is impossible if you really give it your best and trust God to do the rest.
To see my mom without a smile on her face is rare. When I made the big move to the Big Apple back in October, my mom and pop both jumped at the chance to help me and be a part of that big step in my life. As we approached my new neighborhood in Brooklyn, my mom gasped, “Oh, look at all of the beautiful art! There’s so much color!” This was her reaction to the graffiti that covered the walls, never mind that the bordering streets had a light layer of trash. But that’s my mom. She has never failed to only see the positive side of any situation, and she constantly opens my eyes by pointing out how wonderful the world we live in is. Her cheerful spirit, random giggle outbursts and relentless dedication to our family continue to paint the picture of the kind of person I aim to be.
Growing up, I learned quickly that there’s very little my mom can’t do. Between raising her kids, owning her own business, designing all of my childhood homes (four, to be exact — and no, she’s not an architect) and homeschooling my brother and me, she somehow found the time to teach herself guitar. To this day I still don’t understand how.
Everything my mami does, she does it with love. You can feel her beautiful and kind spirit through her embrace, hear it in her encouraging words and see it in her smile — and taste it in the food she makes. Even when anger, worry or annoyance cross her eyes, she will never allow that to touch her heart. She wants the best for others, often more than they want it for themselves. Every day, I’m grateful that she is my mami and that regardless of any challenges, she’s consistent, loving and positive. When my sister had a car accident 28 years ago, leaving her severely handicapped, my mother decided to become her primary caregiver. So many people tried to convince her to put my sister in a facility, but despite the challenges, my mother never faltered. Through this journey, she has remained patient, loving and hopeful. This picture was taken in Puerto Rico before my mom came to New York. I’m sure the young woman in this photo couldn’t have imagined the life that awaited her in New York. But I’m also sure she knew that whatever came her way, she would face it with grace, love and power.
I am constantly surprised by my mother’s (Sue Kindt’s) energy, her youthfulness, her compassion for others and her giving spirit. I love her with all my heart. She’s really quite amazing!
I am one of five. This is a photo of my mom at work. This was back when you could leave your children at home with the oldest in their early double digits as the one “in charge” of the others. I’m sure she took this picture immediately after telling us for the hundred millionth time not to call her except for an emergency. Momma, can you bring a pencil home from work. Momma, can I make a sandwich? Momma, can I have some Kool-Aid? Momma, can we go to the park on Saturday? Momma, can you help me with my book report when you get home? Momma … all were emergencies to us … hahaha. My poor mother, so sweet and always smiling … even when we were not.
My mom became so much more to me than my mother. She had the tendency to come off as being tough or too hard on me from the outside. But there was always a lesson — ALWAYS. A lifelong educator, she took that role and responsibility VERY seriously. And it showed. As a child, whether it was in her art class or gym class — yes in my elementary school — the consistent feedback was always “it could be better,” and I always took that as it’s not good enough. As I have grown and look back on those moments, everything she ever uttered always had to do with my improvement. How could I make it better? What can I do to improve the situation? We became steadfast friends in the last years of her life, and she was even my best friend in a number of ways. I am saddened that it took me so many years to have the relationship that I ultimately had with my mom — but I will forever cherish those years and keep striving to be better.
LESLIE DELA VEGA
Before my father passed away, I had always thought he was the headliner at our family gatherings. He was the one with the wisdom and the jokes. It turns out, he really was the opening act. My mother is the real star. One day, my partner had mentioned, “Your mom’s really hilarious.” “Really?” I thought. I never really saw her as funny … AT ALL. But when I started noticing, I realized she’s a real comedian, without ever trying. She has great one-liners, comebacks and punch lines that always have us roaring. Last Christmas, we were doing a family Thriller video — simple song, a little dance. She came out wearing dark sunglasses, a blonde wig and threw money at the camera singing “Que Sera Sera”! We all looked at each other, stunned. My mother and I became much closer after my father passed away over 20 years ago. They were the epitome of a love story. It’s still sometimes a struggle without him, but my mom forges ahead with strength and humor, keeping all of us up with some laughter.
Attached are some old pictures of me and my mom (and older sister). My mom is superadventurous and had us skiing when we were 3-year-olds. She still snowboards regularly today at 58! I’m inspired by her kindness, lighthearted spirit and positive outlook on life. She doesn’t take herself too seriously and loves to have fun!
Keiko is FULL of surprises. She’s the FUN one, as you can see. She and my dad were the first to get up and dance. She’s fearless and displays perseverance like no one I know. She’s adventurous and has a surprising awareness of people. She always encourages healthy eating and can be brutally honest. She’s amazing, and I’m fortunate to call her Mommy. And, yes, I still call her Mommy.
When I was growing up, my mother put in long hours at the office and made (considerably) more money than my father. Murphy Brown was on in the background, most of my friends’ mothers worked high-powered jobs, and it’s just how things were. I don’t want to diminish what she did by saying she made it look effortless, but it’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I realized my request of her to cook more often must have cut deep. The societal forces she was up against only came out in drips — like when she revealed that she added a “Malloy” to Cheryl Patton only after I was born and she found it too much of a pain to explain keeping her maiden name. The biggest stunner for me was not long before I went off to her alma mater, the University of North Carolina, and she revealed to me the paper dolls. When she arrived on campus in 1968, women were still vastly outnumbered and sequestered in just a few dorms. She was given hilariously detailed instructions on how to dress for class, for a football game and for a party, depicted with paper dolls. To see in infantilizing black and white the different expectations she faced, the burden she always carried to achieve what she did, reminded me that it was all far from effortless.
One thing that I admire and am surprised about my mom is her willingness to care deeply about others and establish superstrong bonds. Growing up, I have had about 10 additional aunties that I know who would serve as a mother to me at a moment’s notice. That’s the strength of who my mother is to them.
If I have learned anything from my mom, it is that no matter what task or job you are doing, you can find a way to make it more enjoyable. For most of my school life, my mother was a chef for a catering company. She would run shifts of people as easily as she ran our house. And though the food was always amazing, a lot of time was consumed prepping for these masterpieces she created. As I was the youngest and only child left in the house, it meant I was involuntarily voted in as sous chef. Even though I protested, she would find some way to make it more enjoyable, whether by teaching me verbatim lyrics from ’80s music and TV-show themes or by starting off with dumb jokes that would have us both in tears by the end. As I have left the house and grown into my own career, these lessons are still as pivotal as ever.
What surprises me about my mom is how she is always able to find a way to make things work using her creativity, skills and talents. She has so much ingenuity, and it feels like she is constantly reinventing and reutilizing what she has to offer to the world. My mom just started a business where she both officiates weddings and does the wedding makeup. Who else is doing something like that?! She tells me she is proud of me so much, but I am really so proud of her as well.