Letter to me at 20
Dear Kimmy at 20,
This is Kim-Yi at 33 writing to give you some advice. I know you think you know everything, but think of this advice like you think of your mom’s: in the end, I’m going to be right and you’ll wish you had listened.
Before I give advice, I want to say how proud I am of you. You hear that a lot from mom, but no one else. There are others who are proud of you but for some reason wait to tell you until after you graduate college. Maybe they don’t want to jinx anything — but they really have nothing to worry about.
On the college front – quit working so much. This self-martyrdom of working 40 hours/week to put yourself through UCLA is silly. Take the subsidized Stafford loans the Financial Aid Office keeps offering you and eat something other than Chef Boyardee and Top Ramen. Use the time away from work to actually open a book or two. It might be nice to find out before age 24 that you actually like to read.
I know you’re kinda feelin’ down about not being a “real Korean-American.” The roommate that said that to you last year was wrong. In a few years, you’re going to do this crazy sport largely populated with Asian-Americans, and you’re going to feel right at home with them. After that, you’re never going to question your identity. You’ll know what you’ve known for most of your life: that you are your mother’s daughter. On that note, take a Korean class. Though people will be impressed years from now with your facility with languages, you’ll be personally embarrassed that you have lost almost all of your first language.
Don’t worry about how often you go home to visit your best friends. They will indeed be your best friends for life and now that they each have little babies, they’re going to want you to be a part of their sons’ lives. You’ll learn a lot about motherhood from them. And you will watch those boys grow up to be great young men, one of them without his dad. And that will make you sad. A lot. But seeing his dad in him will also sometimes make you smile.
And when you go home, stop spending time with that baseball player. Sure, he’s tall and sweet and really, really likes you. But that Pearl Jam song you keep listening to — Better Man — is an anthem for this relationship. Eddie Vedder is trying to tell you something! And FYI, there are actually a few guys who really, really like you, but they’re too afraid to tell you and will wait until the day before your wedding day when they’re telling you why they can’t come. But don’t worry, you’ll still be friends with those guys, even if those friendships take an extended vacation.
I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but you’re going to take a great interest in Africa the last quarter in college, and that interest is going to shape a lot of your future. Approach the study of Africa thoughtfully and at first, in private. For example, when you go on your first trip to the continent, don’t blog about it. Your first impressions there will embarrass you a little, and you will prefer a private embarrassment given the fact that you will make a career out of studying Africa. Relatedly, when you go on safari in Tanzania, don’t haggle the admission fee. I know your mom taught you all prices are negotiable and you’re feeling awfully broke having spent everything you didn’t have on the airfare to get there, but really, you can afford the extra 5$ you’re negotiating to contribute to one of the country’s few opportunities to get foreign exchange.
Finally, stop telling everyone you’re not going to have kids of your own. You’re wrong. You’ll have at least one. You’re going to meet someone who is going to change your mind about how you’ll never be as great a mother as your mom. At least, he’s going to make you think you should at least try. And when all of it happens, things are going to be really upside-down and you’ll lose a few friends. They weren’t worth having anyway. They will be replaced with the amazing moms you meet when you become one. Going through this journey with them will reinvigorate your belief in the strength of women. The world will continue to disappoint you when it comes to gender equality (just wait until you interview for jobs!), but those strong women you have met over the years will continue to give you faith in the future.
kim yi @ 33