On this Mother’s Day, I want to take some time out to thank myself on behalf of my sons for all the shit I go through for them.
Only in in America would an old adage like, “Motherhood is a thankless job.” be an acceptable refrain to turn up at the dinner table–even if it is an expression rife with future opportunities for GOTCHA moments and “I told you so’s” because eventually these punk ass kids realize Mommy was right about that adjustable rate mortgage or that minoring in English is as useful as an Associate’s degree–ON HINDSIGHT. But why do we wait for hindsight? This makes motherhood seem sadomasochistic; like pain is just a part of life and being taken for granted is a perfectly acceptable part of the job–and worst off, we’re supposed to LIKE IT.
Or maybe this is my own limited imaginings of what normative motherhood is: hugs and gentle hushed fairy godmother like tones with platitudes of maternal warmth, interspersed with “Honey” and “Baby” and you’re a “Winner” no matter what discord the kids are bringing up from the hells of toddlerdom and preschool. So selfless, so giving, so otherworldly. This writer bemoans the pedestal mothers are placed on and the highly unrealistic expectations upheld and reinforced by society at large.
As a Chinese American mommy of two biracial sons, I can easily fall into so many familiar tropes if I consciously chose to. The Good One. The Colonized One. The Asian One. The Accommodating One. The Asian Man Hating One. The Smart One. The Dumb One. The Stern One. The Silent One. The Drink Tea and Never Ever Fart in Public one. The one with sharp tiger paws or dragon talons.
But like most intelligent people, I am under a curse of knowledge–I forget what it was like as a child to understand the world in binaries. Good. Bad. Sad. Happy. There’s one trope that is hard to ignore. Sometimes I watch myself performing as the Good One through those simplistic binaries–as though I have the lens of a child figuring out how to tie one’s shoes for the first time, hoping that with practice, it’ll get easier. What’s mind-numbing about processing motherhood in binaries is that sometimes, just sometimes, I let one of those tropes of an inauthentic perfectible mother tell me I’m not doing the best job I can–as if I am reading my own reviews on Yelp
I feel like a first generation mother, like how my sisters and I are first generation college goers. Like college, motherhood has morphed into a transformative asset, opening up pathways to social platforms that I have scoffed at but now straddle reluctantly. I navigate motherhood from the purview of what I think my mother or father would do if we switched places. Cookies after dinner? No. Pay for every type of extracurricular lesson I can possibly afford? Yes. Research middle and high schools before my son has even finished pre-K? No. Bark at Son #1 when he refuses to go take a piss in the toilet. Yes. Take my son to Chinese school on Sundays. Yes. Work Saturdays? Yes. Work summers? (No, visit them for the summer.) Say Thank You when the sons do something nice. No.
For me, motherhood proceeds on new shores, separated from generational and collective learning. My sister, also a mom now, reminds me that socio-economically, I will never BE my parents. They’ve come too far for us to SOLELY mimic their lives. I will never need to survive on the know-how of sewing seams of lace and linen and nor will I ever need to survive on how to measure the spaces between sheet rock and stud.
Motherhood is bi-cultural for me; hence, my skepticism of its marketability rests on why Mother’s Day is celebrated just one day a year–when I do so much shit for my sons everyday.
This is still by far the hardest job I will ever have. My sons need to know this and so my obsession with reminding them how lucky they are will continue. My insistence that they know why I work and what the fruits of my labor are will remain. They need to understand the cost of things and not just monetarily. They have everything they need because of me–hell, I gave them life! Me! Twice.
Perhaps all this is just me being a Debbie Downer on Mother’s Day and failing to suspend disbelief at the hoopla and marketing. My sons have planted flowers for me with seeds and construction paper and so much glue. Son #1 wishes me a Happy Mother’s Day and tells me he wants me to take it easy and have less to do–and then throws a ridiculous tantrum when I get gimel on our last round of of dradle (Don’t ask.) and he loses. A part of me thought I should have let him win, like what my mom used to do with our family rounds of Chinese Checkers. Unlike my father and sisters, my mom always relented and let me beat her.
So why didn’t I let my son win that round? Son #1 had knocked my initial final spin off kilter. It annoyed me. I picked it up and spun it again. So short answer: because I won.