History books, culture, and society bombarded my brain with the notion that aggressiveness was essential in the art of war. This may be true, and while I acknowledge the merits of Bruce Lee’s grunts, the sight of Maori tongues and even General Patton, I have become partial to the quiet riot. From my mom, I learned that the strongest soldiers are the ones who remain peaceful and calm.
As she often reminds me, my mother and I are nothing alike. Impatient, confrontational, outspoken, hotheaded and generally just angry, I inherited all of my personality from my dad. When I was five, she recounted the difficult pregnancy that resulted in my existence. She described my kicks as more painful than actually giving birth, which is why she swore she was having her husband’s second son. Surprise! Mom was wrong about the gender but right about the troublemaking. I used squint my eyes worse than Clint Eastwood at anyone who barely touched my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack, and once I didn’t like you, even your grandmother knew it. I also acquired an early fascination with four letter words that were neither “nice” nor “good.” To my mom’s chagrin, most of these attributes have remained strong aspects of my behavior today.
She, on the other hand, has the kind of demeanor to which both the Pope and the Dalai Lama could aspire. My mom never seems to surrender to anything or anyone, and every morning at five, whether it’s snowing, she’s sick or if there’s no one else in the house, she is still up to care for her family as she always has.
She started her role as the matriarch of all matriarchs when her dad died in 1952; she was one year old. After being handed the responsibility of her seven half siblings, my mom had perfected the art of maternity by the time she had her first child. Then Saigon fell. In the months following the most joyous occasion of her life, my mom had to forfeit three baby brothers and sisters to the perils of boat life and a husband to reeducation camp. Despite her losses, my mom never grew furious. She wiped her tears, tied her hair in a bun and did everything in her power to keep her family’s threads from fraying in the face of war.
Thirty-four years later, my mother still adheres to a policy of less anger and more action. Whether she is helping me finalize my college list, resolving my sister’s marital disputes or scolding my uncles about accountability, I know that if she weren’t pushing us towards our destinations, we’d never get there. Her voice is the voice of reason because we have all lost ours arguing with each other.
A Jackie of all trades, my mom is part ambassador, part guidance counselor, and part of every other profession that finds solutions. While my dad may take credit for her problem solving because he thinks tradition makes him our family’s patriarch, I see the real chief of our tribe. She is quiet. She is humble. She is patient. She protects her family. I believe mothers are the best warriors of all.