[Read to the end 💔]
Mother’s Day has this Korean American mom reminiscing about all of the wild and crazy things my mother used to tell me over the years. You can say it was a hodgepodge of old wives tales, superstitions or just plain old common sense embellished, Korean style.
Here is a compilation of what was routinely uttered in my home. Perhaps you’ve heard some of these in your own homes growing up or if you’re like me, even repeated them to your own children.
Top 10 Tales Korean Moms Tell Their Kids
1. She found you under a bridge when you were a baby so she brought you home to keep.
2. Either that or you came from royal lineage on your mother’s side. Your father’s side came from the peasant class, a point your mom dredges up whenever she’s upset with your father (so basically, you’ve heard it every day of your life).
3. Both your parents were ranked number one in their high school class, so naturally, you must also be number one, regardless of whether they found you under a bridge or not.
4. If you get caught in the rain, you will catch a cold. You will also have moemsal (translation: a specific type of body ache that only Koreans are afflicted with…according to your mom).
5. If you go out late at night, you will also get moemsal, especially if you go out to meet your friends who your parents don’t approve of.
6. Eating pretty fruit while pregnant will ensure you have pretty babies (which explains why you came out the way you did – she lived through the Korean war and its aftermath by scrounging for whatever fruit she could find).
7. Be good to your in-laws or else risk bearing a child that resembles a relative of your husband’s you most dislike.
8. If you bear a son, it’s like you won the Olympic gold medal. If you birth a daughter, you’re awarded nothing (old version). If you bear a son, you’re barely worthy of the bronze. If you have a daughter, your life will be golden (newly revised version).
9. Always have emergency cash stashed away in case you want to ditch your husband or spend it on some obscenely expensive purse (because he will never notice).
10. The day you’re born, you’re automatically one year old. When you’re 30, your parents see you as a teenager (any age before 30, you’re still just a baby). In your forties, they can’t believe that a company actually pays for you to work-they think it’s cute, really. In your fifties, your parents are in denial about your graying hairs. When you turn 60, magically, that’s when you are allowed to act your age and start taking care of them.
Case in point, I recently visited my folks in Korea just before the Covid-19 outbreak. One day as I was about to go outside for a walk, my mother cautioned me to look both ways before crossing the street. Mind you, I am in my young fifties, but not in my mother’s eyes. When I quickly reminded her how old I was, my mom replied, “You’re still my child.”
My dad chimed in at that point and recounted an old folktale about a son who lived with his wife and kids and his aging mother during a famine. He struggled to feed his family and decided one evening to sacrifice his mother in order to save his children from starvation. Without telling his mom his intent to abandon her up at the top of the mountain near where they lived, the son carried her on his back (uh-boo-bah) and told her he was taking her for a walk in the woods.
It wasn’t until they were halfway up the mountain when he realized that his mother was dropping sticks from tree branches along the path. When he asked her what she was doing, his mom replied, “I know I’m not going back home, but I’m leaving a trail for you to follow so you don’t get lost in the dark, son.” Overcome with guilt and grief, the son turned around and carried his mother back home.
Just as I was about to start bawling, my mother killed the mood by yelling at my father to stop spewing nonsense and reminded him, once again, how that only happened to peasants like him back in the day. In the same breath, she ushered me out the door and told me to hurry up and come home before it gets cold and dark or else I’ll get moemsal.
Happy Mother’s Day to my Korean mom and to all the moms of this world. Now, go buy yourself a nice purse online and escape this pandemic, at least for one day :).
Linda Chung is an attorney by trade and soccer wife/mom by any other name. She resides in the Twin Cities with her husband, David, and her two boys, Noah and Benjamin. She also owns a lot of purses and likes to go on long walks with her buddy, Trevor, daily.