Last Friday I was driving home early from a downtown meeting when I decided to take a slight detour to visit my mom. It was her birthday after all and I had yet to wish her a Happy Birthday. There was a risk though. She might not be home. My mother is not your ordinary mid-70s grandmother widow who sits at home in front of the television knitting sweaters for her grandchildren or even baking cookies for her neighbors. Catching my mother at home is like finding a gambler in his room in Vegas.
I was lucky. And she let me know it. I caught her on her iPad (I don’t even own one) checking out movie times and booking dinner reservations. “I’m going to dinner with Pat and Ford, then we’re going to see Oz, the Great Wizard, and then play cards. Want to come along?” Oh no I couldn’t burden my mother and drag down all her fun! The idea of dropping in on my “elderly mother” so she wouldn’t be lonely was preposterous. I was the lonely one looking for the comfort of knowing that she is perfectly fine.
“Thanks for the birthday wishes. What are you doing here?” she asked. I guess it was not obvious. My mom is so hip she would rather get a Facebook birthday post on her wall. She wouldn’t want me to waste paper or spend money on stamps.
We finally settled down as she showed me some of her new projects and she handed me some old papers that belonged to my dad. She became a little somber at the thought of my dad who has been gone for over 7 years now. “I miss James”, she said unprompted. I do too, but somehow I feel she’s moved on a little better than me and my siblings. My dad was the ultimate provider. I remember him visiting his 90-year-old mother in Chinatown after leaving his dental office downtown every day. He’d check in with her and she’d give him some strange Chinese medicine or dish to give to his family. A mother of 8 children who basically raised them herself in a small 1-bedroom apartment, she still looked after her own despite her son trying to take care of her. My dad married a similar woman.
My mom, after her brief, moment of reflection pulled out a map. “So when am I taking you guys to China?” My mom wants to introduce my wife and kids to their (kids, not wife) Asian ancestry. There is no other one better to do this. My parents used to leave us kids home and venture off to China where my dad would lead tours for a month at a time and come back with the very first Walkman ( you remember the one that you clipped to your belt and pull down your pants because it was so heavy?). I would have loved to have traveled with my grandfather to China, so giving my children the opportunity to do this with their only living Asian grandparent would be a real treat. Then she said continued, “Don’t worry your dad and I will pay.” Darn, there she goes trying to take care of me again when I am supposed to take care of her. Of course she had to bring in my departed dad into the picture. Yes, the great provider is still taking care of us from the heavens and she invoked his spirit knowing I would protest otherwise.
I told her we’d discuss money later, but she continued, “Your dad left me a nice pension, it’s okay, he worked 6 days a week for you kids, not for me. I’ll go to Disney with your sister and her family. Stop worrying about me.”
Worry? This is a 70-year-old lady world traveler who readily tells people her zodiac sign before she tells you her name. She’s a 10 year survivor of breast cancer, a widow, a grandmother of four, a sister to seven brothers, and avid sports fan. She then hands me a slip of paper. It is a list of chores (pick up the paper and water the flowers) ”Don’t forget my itinerary. I leave for Burma on Friday.”
“What?” Okay, how many have people have a mom like my mom at her age saying that she is off to Burma?
“Remember Shelley? I’m going with her mom. She lost her husband last year and wants to go. It will be good for her. Did you know that Burma is one of the last countries to adopt the internet? In fact the Chairman of Google is going there as well to help explain to them.” There goes my mother telling me more about the internet than I already know. Needless to day, she will be the person I call when I have wireless router issues in my own home.
I remind her that Burma is a 3rd World country despite all the pictures of the great food that she will be eating. She shoves photo after photo in front of me as I tell her to watch herself. She’s not listening. I tell her that she doesn’t need her iPhone, but she tells me how she is going to load up the new Justin Timberlake album so she can listen to it on her trip. Suddenly I am 10 years old again and I’m getting a lecture from my father. Only this time it is my mom. She has taken over his role. She is the great provider.
“Erik, you have to stop worrying about me. I’ve survived cancer. I have a second chance. I’m not going to die without taking care of those around me. I have a second chance to give everyone my attention. I’m paying for your trip because I don’t want you and your wife to worry about the money. You have wonderful kids. You can’t be so thrifty that you don’t give your kids a great experience. I’m helping your uncle because he needs my help (her 60-year-old younger brother needs support and my mother checks on him weekly and gives him a small weekly allowance). Your dad (there she goes again invoking the spirit of the great provider) and I wanted you to have more than we had and now we want to help you give your kids more than you had.”
Damn, my mother is so right. I laugh at her strength. Her willpower and zest for life is amazing. She is the patron saint of positive attitude. Sometimes I think she is so naive. I think she thinks her eldest son is too jaded. She knows I’m going to worry about her on her trip, but reads my mind, “Don’t worry, will you stop? The worst thing that will happen to your mother on this trip is that I will burn my mouth on all those spicy foods.”
She gives me a big hug and we go on to talk about me, my kids, my family, her family, my friends, her friends, and what seems like her expected travel itinerary for the next decade. Maybe she should join Dennis Rodman on his next trip to North Korea. Two hours go by and I’m now late for dinner with my family, but I suddenly feel like my dad and his mother as she gives me a bag full of cookies and teas, and other assorted refrigerated products to bring home, “I don’t want these to be sitting around while I’m gone.”
The next evening we go out to dinner to celebrate her birthday and my daughter’s birthday. Like the way she will suddenly disappear and travel to the other side of the world, my brother-in-law notices she is trying to pay for her own birthday dinner. She is frustrated when her intercepts and stops her. When she gets back to the table, she’s not happy. I smile at her and she tells me that we are all like our father. I smile back and tell her that she is like him too. The great provider.