Growing up, people often told me that I looked a lot like my mother. The standard response was to play insulted. Truth is, she was fairly hot:

Me and my mum (I’m on the right)

Recently, it occurred to me that there are some things I do with my own daughter that, when I think about it, I realize are things that my mother did with me.

Peel me a grapefruit

We didn’t usually have dessert after dinner in my house. Instead, we would eat fruit. My mother would peel a grapefruit, then arduously remove the bitter white furry parts and thin membranes that held the sweet juicy insides and hand it to us. This is the only way we would eat grapefruit. And this is the way my kid eats grapefruit today. The other day, out of the blue, she said to me, “When I’m grown up, I’m going to come to your house and get you to peel grapefruit for me whenever I want to eat it.” To which I replied, “What are you talking about? I’m going to live with you.”

The weirdest questions

Everyone’s parents are embarrassing; this much we know. However, I believe there is a special place in Heaven reserved for children of immigrant parents. MY MOTHER WOULD ASK MY FRIENDS SUCH WEIRD QUESTIONS!!! Most memorable, however, was one that I remember her asking many times, sometimes of the same friend. How weird could it be, you’re thinking. Are you ready? Here it is:

“What does your mother put in your lunch?”

I just didn’t understand why she would ask people this. I would avoid situations where she’d be in the position to ask this question, but inevitably, it would come up. The odd thing is, my friends didn’t seem to think anything of it. I’d watch their faces intently, trying to detect a look that said, “Holy moly, this girl’s mom is so weird, I’m so dropping her as a friend starting now.” But instead, they would just scrunch up their forehead, and answer, “Umm peanut butter sandwiches?” or something like that.

And then the other day, it happened. Driving in the car with my girl and her friend in the backseat, I heard myself asking, “What do your parents give you for lunch?” I don’t even remember the answer because I was so surprised with the realization of what had just happened. The best part? Realizing why I was asking it and finally understanding why my mother had asked. Basically, a levelset. Oh, you’re getting processed cheese slices, fruit roll-up, and a can of Coke? I’m doing OK then.

Extra special treatment

My mother can be kind of a renegade when it comes to consumer systems. What I mean by that is she will often ask for special treatment or cut the line or do something to get a deal that basically involves strong-arming her way. Only she does it with charm and a sly smile and the grace that she learned as a glamourous airline stewardess in the glory days when they were still called airline stewardesses.

I can remember experiencing physical pain while grocery-shopping because she had a habit of special ordering in the meat section. This was before the days of supermarkets marauding as the open air La Boqueria in Barcelona. This was when meat wasn’t on display, completely naked, but came already wrapped in opaque butcher paper and we liked it! Only not my mother. My 5’2” Chinese mother would bust through those floppy plastic doors into the back, where ex-Hell’s Angels bosses stood shirtless, up to their elbows in blood and guts, hacking away at animal carcasses, and demand special cuts of meat. And she’d get them.

One of my earliest memories is of being told that we were going to the local shopping mall. I must have been very young because my mother was at home with me and my sister, who was still in a stroller at the time. Standing at the door, I remember seeing the bus pull up to the front of our house. Understand that we did not live on a bus route. Somehow, my mother was able to order public transit to come directly to our house to pick us up. I’m sure if I were to ask her about this today, she’d say that it was a special service offered to everyone, not just the very elderly, infirm, and handicapped people.

My own comparable is the experience afforded to my daughter and her friend a few weeks back, when I was able to get us riding on a golf cart in the Santa Claus Parade. Similar to how when that bus pulled up to our door, my girl didn’t seem to question the specialness of the situation. She just seemed to take it in stride, waving and waving like a princess for two and a half hours. What a trooper.

In the end, it’s all about wanting the best for your kids and doing whatever it takes, no matter how weird, forceful, or creepy, to get it for them. I think about what lessons I might be teaching my kid as I fumble through this obstacle course we call parenting. And I think about how fun it will be to embarrass her once she gets a little more self-conscious. Payback’s a bitch, little one.

* * *

I showed this to my mother and she responded:

Very interesting and amazing that you have already felt how your parents treated you through parenting. It actually came to me many years after I left my parents and came to live in Canada. Then I could feel the pain my mother had when she saw me off at the airport. Those days the communication was not like today, once your children left you to foreign country, you were not sure if you could see each other again.  To the children this was not as bad compare to the new environment and new language they are facing.

By the time they realized the huge impact this had brought to their parents, usually their parents could not wait anymore, sad, isn’t it?
Two comments about your article:
Those days in Trend Village you could call a small bus to your door,besides, my charm and grace could not be used over the phone.
Chinese people usually eat fresh fruits in stead of dessert after a meal, but that’s totally wrong according to today’s health expert.  Fruits should be eaten before the meal, especially before protean like meat etc.
Parenting needs to be updating all the time.
Originally posted December 5, 2012

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