On this Mother’s Day, I can’t think of a better way to remember my mom than to share three great gifts she gave me long time ago.
I can’t say that she knew how these little random things she’d done and said work like a slow and steady simmer. Over time, they would nourish my hunger for acceptance, for justice, and a sweet spot.
#1. My First English Song
Do you know this song?
“When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, what will I be? Will I be pretty? Will I be rich? That’s what she says to me…”
Yes, I know – it sounds cheesy, but it actually happened.
I was just six years old but was beginning to fret over what I will become when I grow up.
As a mopey kid, I worried whether I would live up to mother’s expectations. Obviously at that tender age, I had no idea what mom expected me to be. But I do remember that I wasn’t exactly making her proud either. I wasn’t pretty.
I recall vividly numerous teatime conversations she had during the ladies gossip hour in late afternoons when she would compare my face with her friends’ daughters, and sigh…
“I hope Ah-mei (my nick name) would outgrow her protruding forehead, chubby cheeks and blotchy skin. Perhaps I shouldn’t worry. I heard that it’s better to have ugly than good-looking kids because they usually outgrow whatever face they start with.”
Those blunt remarks, within earshot, were not easy to take, but they conveyed the truth. Mom wanted me to be pretty, and I was anxious about disappointing her. My anxiety finally boiled over one day when I asked her that “What will I be when I grow up?” question. Deep down, I was hoping that she would tell me what I wanted to hear. She did!
I cracked up! Whew…what a relief.
Her soothing voice and smiling eyes convinced me that it is OK to be whatever it is that I will be. It is kind of let nature take its course attitude. Whatever will be will be.
Doubled Boiled Milk Pudding
I never knew I had a sweet tooth for Chinese dessert until my mother introduced me to doubled boiled milk pudding 雙皮奶. During lunch one day when I returned to Hong Kong for summer break as a college student, mom took me to her favorite dim sum place. I had already stuffed my face with shrimp, crab, pork dumplings plus fried rice and pancakes; I was shocked to see mom ordering more. It was dessert time.
“It’s good for your skin, Ah-mei. Try it.”
I remember being skeptical not just because I was really full, but that I had already developed a taste for western desserts like cheesecakes and ice cream. However, mother knew how to sell a product; she emphasized the benefits.
“Your skin will glow if you eat 雙皮奶” Mom enthused.
I wanted to believe her because I was getting annoyed about my acne at the time. So, I bought her pitch. After the first teaspoonful, I was hooked. Mom noticed how much I loved it; she decided to learn how to make it at home.
In the years that followed, whenever I returned for home visit – mother would make雙皮奶 from scratch. It’s been nineteen years since mom made her last 雙皮奶 for me, I have not had it better since.
#3. Most Memorable Quote
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Matthew 16:26 (source: The Bible – 21st Century King James Version (KJ21)
Believe it or not, I first heard this Bible verse not at church, but from my mother while watching TV one night after dinner.
We were following a popular Cantonese family drama (whose name I can’t recall) where the characters and themes were weaved along the familiar thread of good guys, bad guys, greed, lies, betrayal, scam and lust. The bad guy was winning, and my blood was boiling.
“How can he get away with this!???”
I burst out slamming the good-looking crook who not only cheated on his wife, seduced another woman, but also went on to acquiring fame and fortune and gloating over his good luck! Mom and I were both emotionally invested in seeing the bad guy fall, but obviously we did not write the script. And we had no idea how this may end.
As I was fuming, my mother whispered…
(For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?)
Her words instantly seized me. She had never talked like this before, certainly not while we were watching TV at home.
Yes, it was didactic, dogmatic and moralistic. But it was also her gut response to my gut response to injustice. (even though it was just TV)
She wanted me to calm down, and to understand what really matters in the end. I have no doubt mom knows best – my guardian angel in heaven. I miss you mom.