Next memoir posts: The Korean mother-in-law

Next two memoir posts are up.

A while ago Papa2Hapa wrote about his oma and her behavior to his girlfriend.  The post and the comments reminded me a lot of my own experience with my mother-in-law.

It seems to be a common theme for older Korean women to treat their daughters-in-law like dirt.  The commenters on the post wrote about being ordered around, and being expected to cook, clean, and wait on their MILs and their precious sons.

My ex-mother-in-law rarely exhibited such behavior, at least to my face.  The only time was the day after the wedding, when she told me I was “no longer a Tung” (clinching my decision to keep my name) and told her other son not to worry about the lunch dishes because “Angela will clean all this up.”

“Leave her alone, Mom,” Billy said, the only time anyone ever defended me.

My MIL was never quite so bossy with me again.  But I don’t know what she said to my ex.  I’m guessing she thought I should have been cooking and cleaning, not only for him but for her and her husband as well, and instead of saying, “Look, I know you don’t cook but my parents are expecting this of you, and if you don’t do it, they’ll give me a hard time,” my ex acted in an annoyed way that I somehow should have known to be doing these things after we were married.

He knew what he was getting.  I never pretended to be a domestic goddess, but for some reason he thought not only that I should change, like magic, after the ring was on my finger, but that I would know to change without his telling me.

Because I was afraid of his disapproval, I did my best.  Over the years, I learned how to make simple dishes like pork chops and steak.  I even branched out on my own with grilled salmon in a soy sauce-brown sugar marinade (which I still make now).  At his parents’ house, the most I did was fry up some ready-made kalbi, make rice, and chop vegetables.

I had been making rice since I was 12 but in my ex’s eyes I didn’t do it right.  When cleaning the rice, I’d use a rice spatula to stir it around, but this annoyed him.

“Use your hand,” he commanded.

What was the difference?  Even his mother said, “Let her do it her way.”

Because of this, cooking was always a nerve-racking experience.  Thanksgiving, when we’d prepare food for a dozen of his relatives, and Joe and his parents would inevitably fight about something trivial, was especially so.  Days before my right eye would start twitching.

It didn’t help that my Korean sister-in-law could cook up a storm.  Instead of keeping our MIL company and helping her to and from the bathroom throughout the day, Olivia would sit downstairs and make a million kimbap that would quickly spoil as my in-laws couldn’t eat them fast enough.

“Maybe you should help her,” my ex said.

Which was it? Should I be helping with his mother, or should I be making some kind of show for this random Korean woman? Besides, I didn’t want to feel like an idiot next to Olivia, who I was already insecure around.

It’s easy to say my mother-in-law was nice to me because I didn’t hear what she said to my ex.  Who knows what she was saying behind my back.  But I wonder what it would have been like if she wasn’t sick.  Would it have been better or worse?  Would the ex have even cheated, and would we still be together?

The other night YP asked me was everything I went through worth it because it led me to MB.  “Yes,” I answered, without hesitation.  I suppose everything happens for a reason.


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