A Note on my Mother

I don’t often write about my mother, but birth and mothers go hand-in-hand and both days are upon us. I thought a long time about a lot of things. For instance, our recent interactions, of which there are few because I live in New York, but mostly because she has in the past two years become less talkative in general. Not just on the phone, but also in person.

I think we’re getting to another stage in our relationship, or perhaps we arrived here quite some time ago and I’m just now understanding it. My mother is not interested in being my best friend. She used to be a tiger mom. And came a midlife epiphany – you can only control yourself – and now she is a lay-down-in-the-grass-and-graze-like-a-aging-gazelle mom. I went from wanting her to butt out of my teenaged life – mostly my teenaged grades and SAT scores, piano lessons and Chinese school – to now, at the age of twenty-nine wishing she would call me more. Or if not call more, talk more when I call.

“Well, that’s about it for us,” she says, every time we’re on the phone, “We’re just having dinner at Grandpa’s house again.”

The conversations are always less than five minutes. She asks if things are good with school, with Tom, and I ramble on for a bit until I sense that maybe she has other things she wants to do besides listen to me talk. I have learned now that asking if things are good is very different from asking how things are.

And I have started to talk to my father more.

“Your mother’s playing golf,” he says when I call the landline because sometimes my mother leaves her phone in her purse in the bedroom. Or, “She’s at the badminton club.” Or, “She’s out walking with Aunt Mary.” Or, “She’s teaching class.”

She’s doing a lot of things I have no part of, and I guess here in New York, it’s the same, just reversed.

For a while, I was a little resentful. Other girls’ mothers seemed to be all about their daughters’ lives. They spoke on the phone everyday or texted constantly. My mother began to text me, I think, to avoid having to call me, but I refused to let her become just another person I texted all the time.

If she texted me, I would call her. She would answer sound a bit surprised, like a millennial.

“Everything good?” she would ask.

And I was never quite sure how to follow that. Everything was usually fine.

Except of course, when it wasn’t.

A few times last year, when I felt unsure about love and life, I would talk to friends, to myself, to Tom. I would write long emails to my cousins. In the evenings, if alone, I would pace around my studio and stop occasionally to look in the mirror, hoping my reflection would tell me something about myself.

I didn’t always think to call my mother, but a few days later, if the anxiety lingered and certain feelings remained heavy, the thought of her would calm me and it would become clear that she was the person I needed to talk to.

She wouldn’t always say the thing I wanted to hear. Once, after an argument with Tom I called her for support – it was a cheap shot, what mother would not side with her own daughter! – but my mother was on my side when she told me quite calmly that a relationship was about two people and that I ought to consider Tom’s feelings.

“It’s the right thing,” she said simply.

My father had, as usual, been listening in on our conversation: “But make sure you consider some things very carefully,” he said, “Be sure you really know someone.”

My mother, like a serene, sophic Bodhisattva, said, “Well, don’t consider too many things too carefully. You can never really know someone anyway. Just try and know yourself.”

That really calmed me down.

Just a few days ago she called asking about my job and our apartment hunt. I hadn’t heard from her in days and had not myself made the time to call because of final assignments, interviews and visiting friends. I wasn’t – I am not- having a bad time, but I felt I had nothing new to report aside from “I’m still looking.”

“That’s okay,” she said, “don’t rush into anything. You have time.”

In the annals of wise words said by anyone, not just mothers, my mother has said nothing new. But regardless, these words at the right time from the right person – my mother – soothe me in a way nothing else can. That’s the weird thing about my mother, about mothers. That’s all I wanted to say.

Happy Mother’s Day to you and yours.

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