Author’s note: My mother came to visit me last weekend. It was the first time she’s come to visit me since I’ve moved to California, and the first time we’ve seen each other since last December. She prompted this blog post.
My mother is an artist. She draws, paints, and sculpts. My parents’ house is strewn with her work. Especially personal to me is this drawing of when I was only a couple years old. Of course it’s significant to me because I’m the subject. But even more than that, it’s the only piece of art that my mother has given me.
My mother is also not an artist, at least not professionally. Despite her talents, she was never able to pursue art wholly. I had seen other local artists showing their art at art fairs and local galleries. I could not think of any reason that my mother could not do the same. Only much later in life did I learn that the artist that could have been, wasn’t, because she was a sister to a brother in Korea and later a wife to man in the Army.
After graduating high school in Korea, my mother was faced with the reality that college was too expensive for her and her siblings to all attend college. Instead, her younger brother, the eldest son, was tapped as the one in her generation to pursue higher education. At the time, parents were forced to pick among their children who would go to college. Typically, they chose the boys.
In lieu of going to college, my mother turned to her passion, art. In addition to painting on her own, my mother taught art to children. She loved the kids that she taught and her skills flourished. But, her time as an artist would not last long.
Her younger brother finally graduated high school and went to college. Just as her brother was chosen to go to college, my mother was chosen to live with him and care for him while he studied. She left a potential career and passion to cook and clean for her brother. What is striking about this is how naturally and expectantly she altered her life to accommodate his. And not just she, other sisters across Korea did the same. My mother’s decision was normal. With that decision, my mother’s life as an artist was put to rest.
Yet, years later, my mother would resurrect her art. In Korea, she eventually met and married a man in the U.S. Army, my father. As an Army wife, she moved from foreign place to foreign place, constantly uprooted. Despite the many drawbacks of being married to a soldier, one benefit was that she could do what she was denied previously, attend college. In school at the College of Marin, she studied art and rediscovered her love for it. This was my mother’s most prolific period. Many of the art works she has now is from that time. Her skills were at a zenith, such that her professor wanted her to take on a summer internship to pursue art wholeheartedly.
However, she would never take that internship. Instead, the Army decided to relocate her husband to Saudi Arabia. Naturally her husband wanted her to go with him. And again she walked away from her life as an artist to care for a household, this time her husband and two sons, including me. She would befriend many women in the same situation, abandoning their own aspirations to raise a military family. These women were the norm. My mother, the artist, was lost again.
I recently spoke to my mother about regrets and missed opportunities. Amazingly she has none. Despite having to abandon her passion of art for the men in her life, she always did it out of love. I like to think that in an alternate universe, my mother reached her potential as an artist and shared her talent with the world. Perhaps she still will. For now, I’m glad I can at least have a glimpse of what could have been.