My mother told me two jokes yesterday. I was eating breakfast in the kitchen and she was using the computer in the dining room, which she has rechristened as her office. She sits at one corner of our long table where she uses her computer, corrects homework assignments, and Skypes with my brother. For anyone else it would seem a massive, lonely work space, but my mother manages to cover most of it with papers, Chinese workbooks, random notes and the occasional bowl of half-eaten oatmeal with an egg cracked over it (not very appetizing, if you ask me). This is also where she gets most of her information from the outside world, in the form of long-winded mass emails forwarded from friends and my father.
She knows better than to pass this cyber trash onto me. I have long since exiled emails from my father to a separate folder titled “Dad” but which could also aptly be called “Horrendously Time-Consuming Bi-lingual Junk Mail,” because for Dad, that’s the purpose of email. He still uses AOL, which is the digital equivalent of the Pony Express. He takes each email very seriously, as though it were a hand-written letter from a relative in China. Before, when he asked me, “Did you see that slideshow/essay/lengthy health report/etc. I sent you yesterday?” I would shake my head and say, “No Dad, stop sending that crap to me,” to which he would respond with an expression of hurt and indignation.
“I only send you the very best emails,” he would say, “They’re always informative or thought-provoking. You should take the time to read them if I’m taking the time to send them.”
I would tell him that I had better things to do. My father would become angry and petulant.
“Well I have better things to do too, than come home and make dinner for you” (if he came home to make dinner that day). And I would give him an odd look, because really. Really?
But I became tired of these arguments and sought to eliminate them from my days. I set up a separate folder: a small, Gmail Siberia reserved expressly for my father, and began to lie to his face. Now I always nod and say, “Yes yes, it was very interesting,” when in fact I haven’t the faintest idea what he’s referring to. It’s okay though, my father invariably provides clues. If it was a slideshow, he will say, “Those were some great photos right?” and I will nod, “So great.” If it was a report of some sort (usually warnings regarding the latest gang tactics – Asian parents love passing these around, even though they and most of their friends live in Newport Beach, Irvine, Cerritos or some other sterile, virtually crime-free city where their Benzes and Bimmers are more likely to be crashed by their Asian wives than vandalized by gangs) he will say, “Did you know that the gangs do this?” To which I will widen my eyes and say, “No! But now I do. Thank you.”
My dad never wants to discuss any of the emails at length. He just wants to make sure I see them. Hearing my response he will smile and nod, satisfied that he contributed somewhat to my daily intellectual digest. And saftey.
“See? I only send you the very best emails.”
At the end of the week I open the folder, give it a quick scan to see if dad sent messages specifically to me (there almost never are; if he has something really important to ask or tell me, he will call) and click “Delete All.” It gives my de-cluttering tendencies the slightest satisfaction.
My mother however, operates differently. She also takes those emails very seriously but rather than bombard my inbox, will call me into the dining room, disguising her intent with the same tone she uses when there is something wrong with the computer.
“Betty! Come quick!”
I usually put down whatever I’m doing and rush to the corner of the dining table. My mother is quite impatient when things don’t work (“Everything is doomed,” she likes to say, when really Gmail just needs refreshing).
But more often than not, the urgency of her call doesn’t match the urgency of what she wants me to see.
“Look at this adorable monkey!” (it was a slideshow of cute baby animals dressed up like human babies).
“Look at this woman in China with no arms and four children! Look at her wash her face! Look at her gather vegetables from her field and wash and cook them!”
She will lean back, click to the next slide and sigh in wonderment, “Isn’t the human spirit amazing.” And there, the next slide will say in Chinese. “The Human Spirit is Amazing.”
As I am already there, at the corner, I can only nod and say, “Yes…” and wonder what it is that prevents me from taking the time to sit through these slideshows while my parents can raptly digest dozens a day. Is it a generational thing?
Sometimes though – and I’m learning to do this more often than to simply rush over like the idiot who believed the boy who cried wolf more than twice – I’ll simply pause what I’m doing, tilt my head and call back, “What is it?”
And my mother, knowing that what she wants to show me is not very urgent but if she doesn’t show me now, she’ll forget it and her daughter will somehow be at a unforgivable disadvantage, will say nothing.
I’ll say, “Mom? Mom?” And start to rise from my chair when voila, there she will be, in the doorway.
It won’t matter if she broke my train of thought – it’s more important that she keep hers. She’ll walk toward me and say, “I just now read a wonderful email…” and I’ll know that it’s story time. Forwarded email story time.