In Celebration of Becoming Your Mother
I hummed a tune while I sliced bananas into the blender to make a smoothie for my son. He cheerfully hopped onto his stepping stool to watch the action. After pouring his drink, I used a spoon to scrape off the banana peel and applied the paste onto my face. He slurped and giggled. The impish sounds leapt into the looking glass of my childhood past, where I found my mom fussing in the kitchen.
My mom turned her head when I approached her by the refrigerator. I looked at her wildly and cackled. Her face was glossy with egg white and textured with banana bits. My mom had a habit of combining skin care treatment while preparing a meal. The carcasses of banana peels, orange peels, and egg shells would lay on the kitchen counter throughout the day. They patiently waited to be given a new life by eventually being whipped into a face mask.
Once, I came home from school and saw a line of ants marching towards the kitchen counter. I quickly cleaned the counter and threw away the fruit carcasses lying around. Upon seeing her skin care treatment in the trash, my mother admonished me for my wastefulness. Now, when my son tosses a banana peel or watermelon grind, my mom’s zeal overtakes my psyche so that I fight the urge to dive into the trash bin to retrieve the organic treasure.
People say that as we get older, we see reflections of our mothers staring back at us at unexpected junctures. I never would have believed this until my son came roaring along.
When my son throws a tantrum, as if some linguistic muscle memory is triggered, an amalgam of Cantonese words would stream effortlessly out of my mouth. Like a ventriloquist, a bizarre voice from a lower register would belt out vocabulary that I have never uttered before, but have only heard spoken to me as a child — by my mother.
Occasionally, I blurt out Chinese Chengyu or traditional four-character idioms, stunning my son and myself. Curiously, I have found that the only words that feel right for dealing with a recalcitrant child are often those exact Cantonese words that enveloped my youth, in which my mother was so critical in shaping.
At age 73, my mother looks a decade younger and is as rambunctious as my three year old son. She drops into a split at every family gathering and dares the young to match her agility. With a birthday that lands around the same weekend as Mother’s Day, she constantly reminds me that youth and stamina can be preserved through the unyielding commitment to health, staying active, and repeating positive mantras.
As long as I could remember, my mom always had a pot of broth brewing with some combination of ginger, ginseng, and goji berries. In between stirs, she would complete a set of stretches and swing a hula hoop around her hip before returning to the stove. When the broth was ready, she would deliver a sermon on the nutritional and healing elements of the ingredients. As her daughter, I scoffed at her long windedness and petulantly dismissed her obsession with health.
Years later, when friends around me recovered from ailments and surgeries, I immediately prescribed them to drink ginseng tea. Not only that, but I insisted that they must steep the tea in ginger and throw in a handful of goji berries to boot. In my mom’s affirmative voice, I informed bystanders that one must only trust the American brands for ginseng tea because the Chinese brands may consist of counterfeit ginseng. Believing that my spoken words may not be strictly adhered to, I turned ginseng tea and goji berries into gift baskets to the unsuspecting beneficiaries.
As I spread the gospel on the virtues of Chinese medicinal properties, I could see people politely nod, with eyes that glossed over me — as I did when my mom spoke to me as a teenager.
With this, my transformation into my mother was complete.
My mother has a restless spirit that never sleeps. If not for growing up in China under Mao’s Communist Regime, I imagine that my mother would have channeled her energy into becoming a nutritionist or dietitian. I am certain that she would have also produced her own Jane Fonda-esque workout videos, with her own sing song soundtrack.
However, my mother’s constant need to be in motion and unceasing devotion to health has shown me that life’s unexpected events do not have to disrupt one’s passions.
My mom has since become the family’s self anointed homeopathic doctor and healthy-living cheerleader. Against all odds, she turned the concrete of our outdoor garage in Brooklyn into an organic garden. In particular, she takes pride in the rose bush she grew in the front of our house. She meticulously collects the rose petals that fall off and turns them into tea. She then grinds the soaked rose petals into a paste for the perfect facial.
I would not have thought that any of my behavior would one day echo my mom’s. But whenever I stand still, a restless energy brims within me. Whenever I sing to my son, my mom’s voice hums in my ears. And whenever my son somersaults across the living room, his effervescent energy beams timeless reflections onto my mother who raised me.