Happy Mother's Day

Sunday, May 13, 2012 / 6:54 AM

The three of us at my commencement.

For Mother's Day when we were little, Na and I used to get up early and "make" breakfast. I write it in quotes because it consisted of Dad opening the fridge and staring blankly into it, and then the three of us pulling whatever it was we found that was acceptable for a fancy breakfast: waffles (of the pop-em-in-a-toaster variety), whip cream and fruit, eggs, Pillsbury biscuits. Dad would make the coffee, and then we'd run up and wake Mom up right as the food was ready. Part of me thinks/knows that Mom used to pretend to sleep in so we could do this because she always was an early riser.

Most often, we don't want to admit that we are growing up to become like our parents. We probably spend more of our childhoods fighting the similarities than accepting the inevitable path. And is it so bad to be like our parents? Maybe in some ways, and maybe some more than others. I listen to my dad complain a lot about his own father, and then giggle to myself because the very things he complains about define who my dad is too. 

One night in DC while Jenny and I were walking up U Street, we were talking about this and about whether we'd like to be like our parents or not. I thought about it and said, "If I ever have kids, I would hope I could be half as good a mother as my mom is." And it's true. The thought of children terrify me because how the hell am I supposed to be as wonderful as my mom? She always seemed to know exactly what to do and exactly what to say. Even now, she just knows

There are photos and videos of Na and me when we were babies, dressed up in various outfits and playing with various toys. As a stay-at-home mom, my mother spent a lot of time making sure we knew we were loved and cared for. Whenever we went out to restaurants, she always held our hands and reminded us to be polite. Whenever we went out shopping, she kept our eye on us and made sure we were well-behaved. 

And when I think about it, Na and I never misbehaved in public the way some children nowadays do. We never ran around with complete disregard for other people. We never screamed and cried and threw things. We never shouted and demanded things or attention. When other children would do that, Mom used to lean really close to us and say in Cantonese, "See how misbehaved that child is? I'm happy you're not like that." We would be happy too because we made Mommy happy.

Na and I weren't always model children inside the home, I know this for a fact. There'd be times Mom would yell at us, but looking back, we kind of deserved it. We were brats sometimes, as most kids are, and Mom was always so patient until she couldn't be patient any longer. 

That's the thing: my mother is the most patient person in the entire world. How does a person get to be so patient, I wonder? My dad and his parents are a handful, but she never complained and never refused to care for them. Even now, when we go shopping with the grandparents, she lets them take their time, and asks questions like, "Is there anything else?" or "How about this aisle?" She always reminds us, "I'm not in a hurry," when we apologize profusely for being so indecisive. 

For the 30-plus years of their marriage, my mother tended to my dad as if he were a child--not in a condescending, patronizing way, but because she was born to be a mother, it seems. (And it doesn't help that my dad is incredibly impatient.) My dad's irregular work schedule prevented him from having a steady adulthood, but my mother never complained. She made lunch or dinner for him every day so he could take to work, and she still does his laundry when she can. In the mornings, when he wakes up at 4 a.m. to get ready to leave the house, she wakes up too and makes coffee and oatmeal, then slides back into bed. My dad is never late because my mom makes sure all of the things he needs is sitting at the table, ready to go. And then when he gets off of work and calls home to let her know he's coming, she starts making dinner and times it perfectly so it's ready when he pulls into the garage.

I wrote a lot about Mom in my Personal Essay workshop, and in every meeting after every story of how my mom loved me despite our pain to watch all of my hair fall out, Amy always noted how wonderful my mom is. "Traci has an amazing mother," she said on the day we were asked to bring in photos of people in our memoirs. "She is incredible." 

Being so far from home has always made me sad. This is the fifth year I'll have missed out on Mother's Day. It's a fifth year of missed birthdays and Thanksgivings and so much more. I try not to think about it too much, but it certainly is a depressing price to pay for being a workaholic. 

At Kim's wedding, summer 2010.
Happy Mother's Day, world. And to my mommy, the--in my very biased, very humble opinion--best one there is.

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