A Letter to My Mother: Thank You For Forcing Me to Go to Pinewood


Samantha Hsiung

Taken June 8, 2017 (6th grade) at my brother’s 8th grade graduation. From left to right: me, my brother, and my mom.

Samantha Hsiung, Editor-in-Chief

To my mother

I am 11. You’ve just picked me up from school in our white Lexus after track and field practice. We drive down Bubb Road, rustling through familiar routes — past wandering children, creviced sidewalks, fluorescent skies. You gaze at me in the rearview mirror, and I look back, seeing your eyes so full of light, your cheeks flushed red. I wonder why you seem so happy. Nearing home, you tell me that I’ve been accepted to Pinewood — the school I interviewed with two months ago. As you pull into the garage, I run out the car, slamming the door shut on my way into my room.

I’d told you that I didn’t want to apply to Pinewood, and that I didn’t want to switch schools. But, like a mother, you bribed me with Costco trips and Target runs until I begrudgingly agreed. On the day of my shadow visit, I sat in the Spanish classroom, cold and unmoving. When asked to recite the conjugations for “estar,” the words cut like switchblades against my tongue. In my interview, I forced on my best smile, pretending to love everything I hated about Pinewood — the small class sizes, rigid literature curricula, artificial turf.

Ma, I cannot imagine how hard that must’ve been for you, to see me so disgruntled about something you were so proud of me for — to see me crying, stomping the hardwood floors with so much anger when I told you I didn’t want to go, and you said “no,” told me that I’d end up enjoying Pinewood, that it’d open new doors, routes, and opportunities, when, in that moment, it only opened more wounds. By the end of April, I was already preparing my final goodbyes, burrowing holes for every memory, every moment I’d ever spent with my sixth grade friends to bury into. In the side-view mirror, I watched the blue roofs of my old school fade into a thin line, like a scar, as we drove away for the last time.

I am 12. You’re waving goodbye to me as I walk into Pinewood, your eyes bright from the glint of your tears. I see Mr. Lemmon greeting new students near the main office. I’ve just finished crying in the car. I’m thinking that everyone around me seems happy — and that I should be happy, too. I’m thinking that there is nothing I can do now to change this moment, to run back to my old school friends, to reverse this hurt. I’m thinking that this is probably a moment I want to remember — so I flutter my eyes like the quick shutter of a camera, framing this point in time into a crystallized memory.

Taken May 29, 2019, at my 8th grade graduation with my family.

The first two years at Pinewood are difficult. By the end of eighth grade, I’m asking you if I can transfer to boarding schools in the East Coast so I can experience dorm living, weekend parties, fields illuminated with snow. You agree, begrudgingly. On nights when the air is heavy, and the sun is thin, you cry, telling me that you hope I don’t get into any of the schools so I don’t leave you.

I get waitlisted or rejected from all of them.

When I tell you that I want to go to the same public high school that my brother goes to, you disagree, forcing me back into Pinewood. I cry again.

I am 14, 15, 16. I enter high school, make new friends, stop crying. It does get better — did get better, Ma. I grew used to the turf pebbles; joined clubs; framed more memories; piano-ed until my fingers swelled into watermelons; experienced virtual dorm living over the summers; flew for fencing competitions; fell in love with reading.

Of course, I occasionally fell apart — swamped with three tests in a single day, sleeping four hours a night. But still, I fell in love with this school, Pinewood, and became thankful for every single second I’d spend here.

Ma. I was 11, 12, 13, a high schooler. Now, I am 17, graduating high school in less than a month. You were right, Ma, when you said I’d love this place — I don’t want to leave. So thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zone and enduring every fight, every argument to provide me with the best future possible.

You are in the kitchen right now, molding dough, your warm hands sifting through beads of rice. Your eyes still so full of light. Two nights ago, you cried and told me how much you’ll miss me when I’m gone at college. I never understood how you felt back then, when I was in eighth grade, applying for boarding schools — but I do now. 

Soon, you’ll watch me walk the stage, fling my green cap into the air. Soon, Ma, you’ll be watching me through the rearview mirror of, perhaps, a taxi, sending me off to college in a great, foreign city — and I will be looking back, my eyes glinting in the light, waiting to catch your gaze from afar.