Words left unsaid
by Dominique Lie
Photo Courtesy by commons.wikimedia.org and alibaba.com
Although there are countless instances where I’ve demonstrated my shortcomings as a daughter, I remember a particular time about 10 years ago when my sisters and I neglected the filial responsibility of even acknowledging the day dedicated to appreciating our Mother.
It has been a tradition taught to my sisters and me that the respectful way of wishing our parents Kiong Hee and Xin Nian Kuai Le (Happy Chinese New Year) is to wake up long before they’re awake and wait patiently for them to exit their room. Once they wake up, my sisters and I clasp our hands together and bow slightly at the waist before giving our good wishes. After which, each of my parents produces an ang pao (red envelope).
In my parents view, our failure to wake up before my father leaves for work or before my mother starts her own day indicates that the coming year will be full of bad luck, and for us, a loss of the New Year’s fortune despite any attempts to rectify the situation.
This tradition has influenced the way we celebrate other special occasions, such as Mother’s Day.
On that day, for reasons still unknown to me, my sisters and I did not wake up early enough and follow the usual routine of previous Mother’s Days. We didn’t say those three words, “Happy Mother’s Day,” that, left unsaid, hurt my mother so much.
As a child with so little experience in life, I wondered why my mother was so affected by three words.
Doesn’t she know that we love and appreciate her?
I often forget that my parents grew up in an environment drastically different than the one my sisters and I grew up in. We never wanted for anything we needed to live and succeed, and even then, my parents tried to give us anything else we desired.
When they were children, my parents wondered what they were going to eat and made unusual food combinations to accommodate the only food they had. For me, having “nothing to eat” means “I don’t feel like eating the food that we have.” While they had to work to put themselves through school, for us they say, “Don’t worry too much about the money. Just focus on your school (studies).”
Now, many years after that Mother’s Day, I think my mother wondered why she couldn’t receive a fraction of the respect and appreciation she had for her own parents from the children to whom she had given everything she had.
While reflecting on the relationship between my mother and me, I notice how similar my mother and I are to Suyuan and Jing Mei in The Joy Luck Club, and my connection to the characters make me wonder how my own experiences may resonate with those reading this column. I feel relieved at the idea that maybe I’m not alone in my thoughts.
I see the similarities in the way “magic words” spill out of my mouth without thought and the “Alakazam!”—my mother’s face shocked and stunned—that results, and the way my mother also insists that we take the large crab for ourselves, leaving her with the old, smelly crab with the missing leg.
Showing her love in smaller and often unrecognized ways, she remembers how I like my chicken strips cut into smaller pieces (because that’s how I always eat them) when she packs my lunch, brings me back a Matcha Green Tea flavored candies from Indonesia, because she recalls my affinity for anything Matcha, and offers to run and ask a passing stranger where she got her shoes, because I mentioned how nice they were.
My mother has never expected extravagant gifts, but wants only the knowledge that her children are thinking of her and consider her dedication to us.
I realize that I will never be a perfect daughter. There have been countless instances in which I have been a disappointment in the past, and I know that there will be many more times in the future when I will fail and fall short of my mother’s expectations of me. However, I hope that knowing what I do now, I can give my mother a modicum of the recognition she deserves.
So, among many other things left unspoken, I want my mom to know three things: Thank you, I love you, Happy Mother’s Day.