Happy Bittersweet Complicated Mother’s Day

mom and me circa 2007

Mother’s Day is bittersweet in our household, because motherhood is complicated, and motherhood is different people and histories and situations now.

I love my mother, who has had my back my entire life. I know she will always take my call and all I have to say is “I need you” for her to drop whatever she’s doing to come to my side. She is the model of unconditional love.

She provides me lots of amusement, too. Her phone calls to me resemble that of Margaret Cho’s mother. When I imitate Margaret Cho’s comedic routines about her mother’s voicemails (*booooop!* Mahgalet! Theeej eeej your Mommy. I jus wanna call yooo to tell yoooo dat Grlampa and Grlamma, they gonnna die! Uh–not today, but someday! So don’t be suhprlised! (pause) Also. Don’t tell dem! That’s not niiice, that’s not nice! Ok. Bye! *boop!*), my mom rolls over laughing. Because that is the kind of shit she tells me.

I miss my mother-in-law, who was killed suddenly only a few years ago. I don’t think any of us have gotten over her death; we all miss her. That’s all I will say in a public forum, but know that my grief goes miles.

I am happy for all my mama-friends who have lovely children. My mama-friends work hard and have deep compassion for their children, and I am glad there is a day of recognition for them. (May your children cook you a better meal today than I did for my mother on Mother’s Day while growing up; once, I cooked her split pea soup, a very very crunchy split pea soup, because I didn’t know you had to cook the split peas down until they were soft (the good cook in me now cringes at how I merely boiled the water, merely blanched the vegetables and split peas and said with great pride, “eat my soup, I made it for YOU, Mom!”)…Guess what? She ate it ALL, as I asked her, “Don’t you LIKE it? Why aren’t you smiling while you eat it?”)

And–I am sad because there are women who cannot enter this sometimes smug bastion of motherhood. And it’s my mom who I turn to for comfort when the pain feels especially daunting (think of that scene in “Julie & Julia” when Meryl Streep’s Julia Childs reads a letter from her sister announcing a pregnancy and says “I’m so happy for them! I’m so happy!” and breaks down in tears, clearly in grief for her own childless state). I’ve been trying to have a child longer (eleven years and counting) than I’ve been writing this novel of mine. Both bringing me agony this week.

When I call my mom and communicate this pain, she says without irony, “Unh–don’t worry, Christine. Being mommy is hard! Take up all your time! When you have baby, your life ends! You don’t need to have baby, so hard and waste of time. Notice I don’t push you to have baby? Because I want you to live your life.” Bwahahahaaa.

Once I asked her, “Do you regret having me?” To which she responded, “No of course not! You and R****** are best things to me!” with the same exact sincerity she used to reassure me to not have a child.

There are other hilarious phone calls, too–I once called her from Hangzhou, China, abandoned by my paid-by-the-hour driver who insisted a certain sight took an hour to see (it took 15 minutes) and who drove off promising to return in an hour. Bored, and unable to call my husband who was in a business meeting in a hotel room in Hangzhou that day, I called her while sitting on a bench by a lily pond, and the phone call went like this:

Me: Mom! It’s me! I’m in China!
Mom: Oh! Where are you?!
Me: I’m.in.Chi.na! I bought some tea today!
Mom: Unh! You bought tea? Christine–don’t drink it!
Me: What? It’s the best tea!
Mom: No, don’t drink it! Pesticides! Give it to your friends as presents instead!

Then there was the time she came home from work and offered me one of her kazillion pieces of advice, always packaged in some random out of the blue but very practical manner–and in hindsight, I now realize it must have been an extra brutal day as an intensive care unit nurse. Before dinner she leaned over and said to me, “Christine, never get tattoo on face. You know, when you die, if you have eyebrow and eyeliner and lipliner tattoo, it doesn’t look good at all. My patient today was so pale and blue. And then tattoo makes worse!” Got it.

Another phone call went like this (we were caravaning to Yosemite, and lost each other–but when she got to the Valley, she called my cell):
Mom: We are by Yosemite Lodge!
Me: Mom! Where did you guys go? We looked back and you weren’t there anymore!
Mom: We are by Yosemite Lodge!
Me: We’re by the general store, come meet us here, Mom
Mom: We are by Yosemite Lodge!
Me: We’re by the general store, come over here.
Mom: We are by Yosemite Lodge!
Me: You want us to meet you by the Lodge?
Mom: Okay! See you!

Happy Mother’s Day. To those of you missing your mothers, I give you a big hug. To those of you who have lost children, I give you a big hug. To those of you struggling to have children, I give you a big hug. And to those of you whose mothers are still living and in your life, I hope you give your mother a big hug today.

Update: Here’s a writer after my own heart! Anne Lamott writes, Why I Hate Mother’s Day.


Filed under Favorites, Life, The Personal

26 responses to “Happy Bittersweet Complicated Mother’s Day

  1. OMG I love these stories of your mom. How beautiful. She is fantastic. LOVE the story of her eating the crunchy split pea soup! That is so classic.

    Mothers Day (even though I have amazing children) is bittersweet and weird for me too, for reasons you know.

    And I am sorry for the pain that this day (and probably others) evokes for you. Hugs.

  2. Dear Christine, my mother lives a couple of thousand kilometers away and it took me seven painful years to become a mother myself. Well, I give *you* a hug today for this post.

    • @susan: I added more conversations between me and my mom for your enjoyment (and i enjoyed recalling them).

      @arachnomaria: thank you for your comfort. we all have our destiny, and perhaps mine doesn’t involve children. i only hope then, that i make my life worthwhile.

  3. cindy

    great post! And BIG HUGS TO YOU! ❤

  4. Nate

    Christine, I’m sure that you’ve done plenty of soul searching on this, but many children out there could use a person just like you in their lives –as a mom, a mentor, or a friend. If you feel like you have some love that needs giving, I say give it early and often –I promise you won’t run out. Even the smallest things can mean the world to someone who needs you.

    On a lighter note, back in the days of long distance my grandma used to call up and it went like this:

    ME: “Hello”
    GM: “Oh, Nathan. Is everyone doing OK? Your father? Your mother? Your brother? The girls?”
    ME: “Yeah, sure, everybody’s fine grandma.”
    GM: “Ok, I’ll talk with you later.”
    ME: ?

  5. chaesq

    Big hug to you!

  6. Shae

    Christine — I know how bittersweet today is for you and I am so thankful that you shared this beautiful story with us. Thank you for the well wishes. I spread the hugs around the house and I’m saving the biggest for you!

    • @chaesq: thank you!

      @Shae: your love is awesome. i will never forget that you were my go-to person in college, and how your empathy and gentleness kept me buoyed!

  7. amapofhome

    omg i finally read this. lmao at your mom’s quotes. i love her and cannot wait to meet her!!! also, don’t know if i’ve told you lately: you are an awesome writer 🙂

    • you would find my mom hilarious and sweet. as with all my friends, she will probably push fruit upon you (the running joke with all my friends who have met my mom is, “Would you like some apple/watermelon?”). i send her an “edible arrangement” every year and she LOVES it.

  8. This is a lovely post that conveys all of the complication surrounding motherhood beautifully! I was laughing out loud at that Yosemite phone call. Your mom sounds wonderful.

    • It is interesting how motherhood itself gets simplified; a woman’s life is complex, whether a mother or not…and complex inside of motherhood and outside of motherhood. It made me feel better to write a blog post that only begins to highlight the complexity. Thank you, elizabeth.

  9. Connie

    Dude, my mom totally pushes fruit on me and on all my friends! She once insisted I take seven (7) pumelos on the 6 hour drive back to SF. When I said, “it’s okay, only one, Mom,” she cried, “Oh! You hurt my feelings!” And Yosemite Lodge is totally my dad and Coco’s.

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  11. So glad you didn’t give me any of that pesticide-laden tea! 🙂 Great post.

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  14. Here via Tayari’s FB post, Christine. You’ve got a new fan! Thanks for the laughs, and the many timely reminders, all in one terrific post. Cheers from Denver, Karen

  15. Christine, this may be your best yet. And I’m going to call my mom right now!

  16. Barbara Soloski Albin

    There is no way I can tell you how much I enjoyed your stories, Happy Mother’s Day to your mom.

    • @Karen: Thank you so much for stopping by and for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed the time here. 🙂

      @Naomi: I’m savoring that compliment.

      @Barbara: Thank you and happy day to you!

  17. +1 on enjoying the stories, and laughing aloud. And it reminded me to show Miss Jiwaku some of Margaret Cho’s routines. Funny (but unsurprising) how very unknown she is in South Korea.

    My mother’s day talk with Mom ended with the usual —

    MUM: “I don’t want to keep you on the phone, it’s so expensive…”
    ME: “It’s okay, Mum, I’m using Skype…”
    MUM: “… so I’ll talk to you later, and say hello to what’s her name? Chang Zuan?”
    ME: “It’s Ji… Hyun…”
    MUM: “Ji Zuang. Okay, say hi to her for me.”
    ME: “Okay, love you Mum. Bye.”

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