Written on a plane, like most of my other thoughts

“It was so easy to blame the mother. Life a miserable contradiction, endless desire but limited supplies, your birth just a ticket to your death: why not blame the person who’d stuck you with a life? OK, maybe it was unfair. But your mother could always blame her own mother, who herself could blame the mother, and so on back to the Garden. People had been blaming the mother forever...”

— Excerpt from Jonathan Franzen’s Purity.

Five-hour redeye flight after a long day of shoot. I'm seated in a budget airline flying from Shanghai to Phuket. My mother is seated next to me. Our arms are intertwined and we share a u-neck pillow, both of our knees grazing the seat in front of us. She seems to slip in and out of sleep. I'm too tired to fall asleep, and my body itches from sitting for so long. My mind visits a million thought chambers. I decide to read Purity, the book I started on a while back.


This is the first time I am taking my mom on a mother-daughter holiday. And it should be acknowledged as a notable moment, as it marks the change in our relationship and our roles in each other's lives; I'm finally old enough and mature enough to break out of being so self-involved, to finally be the one that planned specifically to spend time with my mom withou a necessary purpose.

I had a lot of disdain towards life in general in my adolescence, but my biggest scorn was targeted at her. She was an easy target; back then, she seemed impossibly old-fashioned and anti-me (whatever that was). As an immigrant parent, she failed to speak my language, literately and figuratively, and the tiresome manner in which she stressed her wishes for me to pursue stability via a conventional path drove me further away from her. I was immature and wrapped up in my own life starring me as a protagonist and her as the Mom character. May sound stupid, but it took me decades to really realize she's a person, too, and that she was just doing what she knew best to make sure I would be taken care of, when or if she no longer could. She felt responsible for me.


It's the sort of a realization that makes you humble and human, but not without a sense of guilt. I tear up about it, because I'm a a hypersensitive idiot. But I think my mom understands it all; perhaps she too blamed her mom at a point. And as I think through all of this, I squeeze my mom's arm. It's soft, comforting, and all those warm homey things that are Mom, and I'm so thankful that I'm sitting in this plane with her beside me.

4 comments:

Aromy said...

This resonates with me so much. Beautifully said.

I easily slip back into the angry teenager whenever I'm around my parents. But it wasn't until I became a mother that my own mom started treating me like an adult.

Take care!

Mai Linh said...

Wow, this is really beautiful. I'm also the daughter of an immigrant mother (Vietnamese) and I think I went through the same as you. Just recently I realized that my mother never intended to hurt me. We just did not always speak the same language and had the same perspective. I am not fully adult now but I chrish my mom. I get teary if I think about all the times I hurt her. Anyway. Understanding that your own mother is a person with thoughts, wishes and dreams on her own is something precious. This is a very sweet gesture of you taking her with you on your travels.

Take care and have a save trip!

Helena Wang said...

Don't even know how I stumbled upon this, but it's very touching. Thanks for reminding me to send love to my own mama.

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