How watching "Gilmore Girls" helped me understand my own mother, who was more of a Mrs. Kim than a Lorelai
It happens to many of us. We start watching Gilmore Girls one day and not-so-slowly become incredibly envious of the relationship between Lorelai and her daughter Rory. They watch the same movies, have a love-addiction for coffee, are both incredibly sharp and independent and self-disciplined, can talk about their relationships, and rarely fight (well, until you get to Season 5, but even then, it’s eventually resolved). I spent years watching this show in my late teens and early twenties wishing I could have this kind of relationship with my own mother, but instead I had a relationship which was much more akin to Lane and Mrs. Kim’s — and occasionally Emily’s and Lorelai’s.
It wasn’t until years later that the show began to take a different form in my mind, where it began to feel less like envy for a relationship I’d never had and more like a lens through which I could begin to understand my own mother.
Let’s backtrack. I’m a first generation child of immigrants. My parents were always conservative to some extent, though it got worst the older I got. My mother (being new to this country and previously from a town with a population of less than 20,000) was terrified of the society she was living in. I was not allowed to go to friend’s houses until high school, and even then they needed to be heavily vetted and approved by my mother. I was incredibly obedient in my younger years, a nervous child who longed for the kind of freedom Lorelai begged for. As a teen, I wished for the ability to wear band t-shirts or dye my hair or to have the ability to discuss relationships with my mom — but none of this was possible. So I hid, I found loopholes, I snuck around. And eventually, like Lorelai (though older, and not pregnant), I decided to pick up my stuff and leave without notice.
Like many young girls (because many of us were young girls when the show began), I longed for a Lorelai and Rory relationship with my own mom. I recall watching the show in my mother’s living room while she cooked in the kitchen, hoping she’d come sit with me and watch. That maybe somehow, some of the show would resonate with her. She would realize the damage her stranglehold on my life had done, and would loosen up. Maybe she’s finally have a cocktail, or be alright with me having one. Maybe she would stop criticizing my fluctuating weight or my sometimes messy hair or the fact that I didn’t always bother to match my purse with my outfit. That never really happened, though.
Instead, I got older. My mother’s judgements began to matter just a little less. I also began to understand her position more — and I have Gilmore Girls to thank in part for this. One of the first times I felt a greater understanding of my mother was in the Season 3 episode, “Dear Emily and Richard.” Lorelai reminisces about her pregnancy with Rory, how difficult it was for her to to tell her parents, and how frustrating to hear her parents discuss her future. In the flashbacks, she ends up not only leaving without notice to go and deliver her baby, but also running away from her parents’ home by simply leaving behind a note —something I did in my late teen years after I had a heated argument with my mother.
At the end of the episode, we see Lorelai finally realizing how painful it must have been for her parents and her mother especially, to have their only daughter run away, with their granddaughter no less. Lor attempts to bridge the gap between her and her mom by dropping off a DVD player, recognizing her mother’s loneliness while Richard is away. It made me realize that just like Emily, my mother must have been severely hurt by my actions, but that despite it, just like Emily, she still loved and loves me.
There are similar scenes in Season 4. In, “Scene In A Mall,” Lane and Mrs. Kim have been on the outs for some time. Lane ran away from her home and returns to Mrs. Kim’s to collect her things. At the end, just before leaving, Lane and Mrs. Kim share a look. There is still love there, despite the misunderstandings, despite the lack of understanding they each have — Mrs. Kim with American culture and Lane with her mother’s religiously-influenced ideas.
Then, in “Afterboom,” Lane finishes up a great gig but realizes how much she misses her mom. She sneaks into Mrs. Kim’s house, goes to her mother’s room and gives her a kiss on the forehead as she sleeps. It’s an incredibly sweet and powerful moment in which Lane knows things can never go back to being as they were, and you can tell she feels the weight of her newfound freedom. As the audience, you know that despite her tough exterior, Mrs. Kim is just as sad over their situation. As a daughter, it made me understand that sometimes my mother isn’t going to be the one to admit she made a mistake, or that things are rough for her. It made me remember that even the toughest seeming person can still hurt on the inside, reminding me to sympathize more, to even be the bigger person at times.
Even now, living thousands of miles away from my mother, and as a mother myself, I sometimes have trouble connecting with her. While she did not vote, she did post to Facebook about how we should give the President-Elect a chance. As a pro-choice, pro-immigration, queer Latina woman, this both angered me and made me feel awful. I couldn’t understand her reasoning (especially as a Latina woman herself). In true Lorelai fashion, I couldn’t stay quiet about it. I had to confront her, and she attempted to give me her perspective. It took me a week to finally allow myself to speak to her again. But this is something that happens time and time again on Gilmore Girls.
In the scene below, for example, Lorelai confronts her own mother about how she needs to do things on her own, how she does not want her mother buying Rory all these things she doesn’t exactly need. On the one hand, I see what Emily was trying to do, and it was not done to hurt Lorelai. On the other hand, I get Lorelai’s need to exert her position, because Emily has a tendency of not stopping until she is, in fact, stopped.
Now I find myself deep into a Gilmore Girls marathon because a) I want to be prepared for the revival this week, and b) Gilmore Girls is my safe space, especially when it comes to dealing with my ever-evolving relationship with my mother. Analyzing every scene between Emily and Lorelai, I know that at the end of the day, Emily is a good mother, just like mine is. Emily might not be the greatest person, treating her employees the way she does, and viewing the world through a narrow lens. My mother might not always agree with my political stances, or understand why I have a tattoo (and want more). She might not ever be able to have a candid discussion about sex with me, or understand why I call myself a feminist.
But if Gilmore Girls has taught me anything, it’s that we can almost always find some form of common ground with our mothers, a safe space for us to co-exist. The show does not aim to demonize Emily or Mrs. Kim, though you might think so at first. It aims to reveal the complexity of this important relationship, to show that we all have layers, that none of us are perfect, but that we should, at the very least, work toward civility and even occasionally enjoyment at our own versions of Friday Night Dinners.