A Boy’s Love on the Landing

When he walked in this evening, Daddy wanted to take his boy to the park.  As I changed Little Man on the landing, he wrapped himself around my neck and kissed me.  He smiled, “I will never let you go.”

My eyes smarted.landing1

The sacredness of the moment hurt – a swelling tight at the edges. I was thrown forward to the day time will have run out on us, make me let go my son with the borrowed breath.

“Someday you will have to,” I said quietly. A weak smile back, and we puckered for two more wet kisses.

I squeezed those little fingers down the rest of the steps.

Carry You In The Rain

Your toe broke through the sole of your shoe. I didn’t want you stepping on the cold, wet ground. I put you on my back – my boy almost seven – and had trouble walking. A friend of mine was with us and we peeped our head into some restaurants, more like run-down bars, for a new shoe. We left the row of shops and stood on a threshold under the eaves, facing the pavement. I cradled you.

I would carry you in the rain.

You grew a few years smaller in my arms. As I asked my friend to cover your face with your blue jacket, you slipped into bed with me, pulling me out into the fresh, dry morning. The first thing you asked was what I’d dreamt.

Last week you mused, “I wonder what’s inside the sun, Umma. I want to see.” You expressed this so imploringly. Should I not have told you that you will burn? Should I have left you to dream impossible dreams? Did I kill your wondering?

The other day you took car tracks bereft of car and remote, and turned them into a runway for your plane. The delight on your face when that plane took off. And Daddy and I had wanted to get rid of the tracks. You blow me away. Life blows you away.

I forget why I keep you close, teach you at home. To free you to stand on your slab of questions and ingenuity, ready to run into the sun. I know that this side of dreams, there’ll be no carrying you in the rain.

 

sunbig

 

Words Between Mom & Boy

TreeBetween22.5 or 3 years old
“Ditsy, ditsy spider went up the water spout.”

4 years old
From the backseat of the car
“Mom, you’re my Giving Tree,” the Tree the protagonist in a children’s book who gives and gives of herself until she’s cut down to a stump.

5 years old
Zonkers over the rare treat of tapioca pudding, Tennyson happily volunteered to give thanks. “Dear Lord, thank you for…[spoon LICK.  Lonnng LICK….Silence. Prayer resumed when reminded.]

5 1/2 years old
To Daddy. “Your heart sounds like Samba. Bugga Bugga Boom.”

“Where does Barney live?”
(Anyone?)

Out of the blue, reflectively, like he was tasting the words
“Pine cone juice…”
Laughing, I asked where he got that.
Shrug. “I dunno.”

Another random thread out of literature
“This is a special day in the hundred-acre wood,” with the widest grin.

He walked in on Daddy in the bathroom who requested, “Uh, excuse me.”
Tennyson’s gleeful retort: “I already went this morning.  HA HA I win.”

“What do the other planets smell like?”
One of many questions Mom couldn’t answer.

6 years old
“Where is the Star Wars planet?”

Mom: “You wanna stop eating?”
“I wanna feel my stuffedness.”
*20 minutes later*
“Is your belly happily full?”
“My belly is happily ever after full.”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I want to be a daddy.

Two weeks ago
“Mom, when I die, bury my ashes under the trees.”
Speechless. I realized it was his rendition of Daddy’s last wishes.

Yesterday
From the backseat
“Mom, I think you’re not a good driver.”
(She’s nOt.)

In bed, with a smile: “Mom, I feel Jesus’ love.”

The last thing he hears from me every night
“You are safe and loved.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

To my boy, when he’s old enough to understand:

“Be good to your friends. Life is relationship.”

“Whatever you do, be unique as you are skillful.”

“Onward and Upward.”
I love the pithy profundity that concludes the odyssey of Narnia, suggesting the journey’s only begun.

The Invisible Woman

PleaseLookMomThough Please Look After Mom was an international bestseller by a South Korean novelist, I didn’t care for the lackluster title or the parts that were overstated. But the well-painted portrait of a mother who goes missing redeemed the read plenty. She is a prototype of wife and mother from every culture since the dawn of time. We see the heart of the Invisible Woman.

So-nyo, an elderly mother of four grown children, vanishes in the Seoul subways. Her husband hurries ahead in the crowd, impatient as always, and in a moment of disbelief the subway door shuts their hands apart, pulling the car away with him. The novel is a rotary of voices – of the children and husband who search for her in despair while thinking back in shame at the woman they never had really looked at.

Hyong-chol, the eldest child, thinks back on the time his father brought into their village shack a woman to live with him, with the family. Naturally, So-nyo left the house. Trying to buy her way into the hearts of the kids, the Other Woman carefully packed their lunch, even to top it with the fried egg, then a luxury. Hyong-chol not only didn’t eat it, but made his siblings bury their lunchbox. The Other Woman went on to buy them new containers that kept their rice warm. The son refused to renounce the food strike.

   Mom came to school to find him.  It was about ten days after the woman had come to live with them.
   “Mom!” Tears spilled from his eyes.
   Mom led him to the hill behind the school. She pulled up the legs of his pants to reveal his smooth calves, grabbed a switch, and hit them.
   “Why aren’t you eating? Did you think I would be happy if you didn’t eat?”
   Mom’s thrashing was harsh. He had been upset that his siblings weren’t listening to him, and now he couldn’t understand why Mom was whipping him. His heart brimmed with resentment. He didn’t know why she was so angry.
   “Are you going to take your lunch? Are you?”
   “No!”
   …Instead of running away, he stood still, silent, and suffered her blows.
   “Even now?”
   The redness bloomed into blood on his calves.
   “Even now!” he yelled.
   Finally, Mom tossed the switch away. “God, you brat! Hyong-chol!” she said, embracing him and bursting into sobs. Eventually, she stopped, and tried to persuade him. He had to eat, she said, no matter who cooked the meals.

Even in the second reading, my eyes smarted. I am not endorsing child abuse, of course. But my heart swelled with understanding of So-nyo’s pain and the desperate attempt of a mother to get her child to eat – though it meant that she let the Other Woman feed him. It is one of the most telling moments in human drama where, embracing insult to injury, a mother physically tries to force her son to an act that would reinforce his father’s galling unfaithfulness. She swallows her dignity for the well-being of her child.

This is just one snapshot of her invisibility, where So-nyo chooses to go under. I’m not praising her for being a doormat beneath the man she had served with nothing but devotion. In fact, she returns home to chase him and the Woman out of her house. But part of the attraction the book holds for the reader is that So-nyo seems to be Everyone’s Mom. Please allow the sweeping generalization that will bear exceptions. The protagonist was so recognizable: I saw much of my own mother in her and could pull up a good many other moms and grandmothers who could have replaced her name. Hers is a life of sacrifice from the day she marries and the self-renunciation, a silent one. Not once does she complain – I think because it doesn’t occur to her to. Interestingly, I don’t recall her ever saying, “I love you” to any of her kids. Calloused hands freeze while washing the offerings of the garden, the clothes, and dishes in the winter water. Unflagging hands pickle food for the seasons ahead while dancing over pots and fire as they contrive the next meal. In fact, she has an awful lot in common with the women out of Little House on the Prairie. In reading aloud some of the stories to my son and husband last year, I tried to figure out what was so familiar about the Prairie series when my life has been so unworthily comfortable by comparison. One day it hit me that the untiring work of the parents, especially of the mothers, mirrored the call to unsung exertion that many Asian women answer when they have children. But ethnocentric I’m not. Many of us would see So-nyo in our own mother, aunt, neighbor, or grandmother. She is not attractive, and goes about with a towel over her eyes that catches the sweat. She is not a literal model but certainly a beautiful one. She has always been there for her family, receives her husband with ready food when he slinks back from an entire season of idle adultery. But she is missing from the family radar. When she actually disappears, the family unravels both individually and as a unit.

Two years ago, I asked a friend if he thought he appreciated his mother, who had raised five boys. He didn’t begin to, he answered, until he had his own. And pointing to my boy, added that Tennyson will come nowhere near appreciating the cooking let alone the rest of the mothering until he also becomes a father. After having my own family, I have nursed shame for not helping my mother enough in the long immigrant years she juggled work, cooking, and housekeeping, all the while somehow keeping present and active in my schooling. When I was in Elementary, Mom sewed for the garment factory. One time, flying off the lightning force of the Singer machine, the entire needle sunk into her finger. I remember her rushing to the doctor, trying to cup the dripping blood with the other hand. Even then she did not complain, nor has she in the days following: the needle is in her finger to this day. We can never thank Mom enough. Because by the time you’re a parent who sees your mother’s hands in your own labor, your own family becomes priority. Grace runs down – not up. The love of a mother will outdo and outpace her child’s, and the debt you owe her is one you pay forward.