All my life I’d wished my mother was someone else.

We want love to be easy, that the people we love do noble things or have admirable talents. My mom is neither moral or bright. Her life philosophy is dependency. She hates to learn and thinks the worst of people. Whatever the feminist ideal – strong, independent, sassy – my mom’s the opposite. I’d spent a majority of my life cutting ties; she spent the majority of hers stalking and controlling me. It was embarrassing.

People who gave advice about my mom overflow their advice with “why don’t you…”s. and endless debates of “always be respectful to your mom” vs. “the most important thing is you”. The advice I gave myself was equally barren. Yell. Or be direct. Or be calm. Or try and use logic to an intensely stubborn and emotional person. “Here’s the answer,” I told her, “This is what I want you to say, Mom. I’ve thought of the solution for you. Just follow it.” And of course, she just stares into space.

My mom’s the second of eight children, the pretty one, the pet daughter of a bank manager who kept my aunts and uncles in a tiny zero bedroom cot. There, they mistrusted strangers, depended on each other, had no curiosity other than gossip and celebrity obsession. My maternal grandfather died early in my life, but somehow, I blamed my mother’s life outlook on him. My aunts and uncles share a similar, distrusting philosophy, so I suspect there’s something in the way they’re raised.

My late-paternal grandmother raised me differently. Now there was an easy heroine; the badass take-no-shit ex-triad mistress, wartime rape survivor. When she came into my life when I was seven, everything became different. She spoke her mind, turned our house into a mini-farm, killed chickens with her bare hands. Every flaw I noticed about my mother became magnified when my grandma raised me. She despised my mom and didn’t stop for a second to tell her she was weak. I bought into all of it. I developed a habit of sass talking at my mom and she took it because it was clear she could be bullied and fold.

I wished Mom was smarter. I wished Mom wasn’t stubborn. I wished she’d just kick my ass. Her good qualities were so lost to me, because they were hidden among the things that angered me. “She loves you,” people’d tell me. “Isn’t it all that matters?” Despite the times I was sick, despite the times I told her horrible things, she wouldn’t stop making me medicine or cook for me. When I lived in my own home, I threatened to call the cops if she came in, so she sneaked boxes of home-cooked Chinese food, then drove a block to call me that food was there in my front door. The younger me didn’t appreciate it; the younger me called it spoiling. How could I learn to take care of myself when she wouldn’t stop caring for me? She would break into my home, steal my clothes, wash them, then put them back. My mother didn’t like me dating, threatened every woman that came near me, then at the same time harped on why I didn’t make her grandchildren. It was easy for people to understand why I’d hate her, because hate is tainted love; I wanted to love her, but she drove me nuts.

Memories collect from the times I bullied her to soul-crushing tears. My mother was never articulate with her feelings, but my monstrosity towards her speaks on her behalf. “I can’t help but love you, son,” these instances say. “I know I’m not perfect, I wish I could be the mother you wish I’d be, but I will not stop loving you.” As I got older, I appreciated her. We’ve never had an intelligent conversation in my life, but I’ve come to understand this about people: it’s not what they do for you; it’s how you can make them happy. It’s easy for me to make my mom laugh. “You’re the only one who can do it,” my dad said. “It’s not because you’re funny. It’s because you’re the apple of her eye. All you have to do is shake your ass or make a funny noise, and it makes her day.”

My mom is old now.

For the longest time, she avoided aging. One day she just had a lot of wrinkles and gray hair. Every time I see her, I’m reminded of her mortality, yet she’s still a child. I avoid the topic that triggers me; that I should return home and let her take care of me. I believe she’s stunted my growth; being away from her, so I can be an adult, helps me see the good in her. She’s a beautiful person, a kindhearted one when she isn’t a slave to her negativity. I love her hugs, she looks like a grandma without being a grandma.

“I want grandchildren,” she always pleads. “Why’s it so hard for you to find a wife?”

It’s a complex subject. Relationships; dating after 30. Everyone is just confused. “Just find a good woman who’ll bear children, stay in the kitchen, obey the elderly.” Comments like that used to set me off. Now, I just laugh and say maybe I’ll be the house husband. I don’t mind. Any woman of mine can be the breadwinner if she’d like. “You? Laundry? Cook?” she laughs. “That’s not the way I raised you.” I know she refused to teach me things, a tactic to keep me dependent on her. I do what I always do whenever I feel mad at her; I change the topic. I say something silly and do a funny dance. Loving her is more important to me now than being right.

It makes love easy. It makes appreciating her a joy.