My Mom and Grandma
My Mom and Grandma in Kaohsiung, April 2011

Ah, Mother’s Day! I know plenty of moms think that every day should be mother’s day, but Mother’s Day the holiday gives us children an opportunity to ritualistically apologize to the women who raised us for all the suffering we put them through. It’s also a good chance to reflect on what we’ve learned from our mothers and grandmas. I really love the little nuggets of wisdom my maternal grandmother tries to pass along, even when they scare the crap out of me.

A few years ago, my grandma, who has lived in Vancouver for decades, made one of her regular trips back to Taiwan to stay with my uncle’s family in Kaohsiung. I headed down south to see them and we all went out for a dinner at an Italian restaurant. Halfway through my plate of spaghetti, a little bit of marinara sauce went down the wrong tube.

As I coughed, my grandma offered me a glass of water and asked if I was okay. When I replied that I was, she said, “You really need to be more careful when you chew and swallow. You know, I had an older brother. He always had a hard time swallowing. I guess that’s just the way his throat was shaped. Then one night he choked on his own saliva and died. You always have to be careful.”

She paused and looked me in the eye before continuing.

“Bad things happen in your sleep. Especially when you are old.”

I nearly sprayed drinking water all over the table. My grandma had a wicked gleam in her eye. That’s when I realized that she and I have a lot more in common than I ever thought we did. Both of us have what can perhaps best be described as a slightly quirky — some would say evil — sense of humor.

When my Mom was in Taiwan a few weeks ago, we talked about my grandma’s communication style:  direct, with the occasional unexpected one-liner or anecdote that you would never imagine coming out of someone who looks so unassuming. I told my Mom that I think I inherited a little bit of that from my grandma and she told me that perhaps those genes skipped a generation.

Mom and I have fingers growing out of our heads!
Traveling, circa 1994

“But you’re like that, too!” I said, and I recalled a story my Mom told my brother and me when we were little after she’d caught one of us playing with chopsticks:

“In my village, there was once a little boy. One day he started chasing his classmates around with a pair of chopsticks. That he fell, stabbed himself in the eye and was blind forever. And that is why you should never run with chopsticks.”

I think this story explains my lifelong uneasiness with holding chopsticks too close to my face (unless they are clutching a tasty morsel). I want to avoid an eyeball kebab!

I asked my Mom where she’d first heard that story.

“Your grandma.”

Haha! That is just so awesome. My grandma is basically like the female Taiwanese Hakka version of  J. Walter Weatherman, one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite shows. 

Seriously speaking, though, my grandmother did not have an easy life. I am awestruck at the tragedies and challenges that she faced, any one of which would’ve been enough to make many people just want to give up. All of my grandparents had to overcome many struggles, including my beautiful paternal grandmother, who passed away before I moved to Taiwan.

Me with my paternal grandma (Nai-Nai)
My Nainai and me, 1981

My grandma faced everything with aplomb and a dedication to living well and resourcefully that I hope to emulate. My mother has inherited all those qualities from her mother. I come from a line of strong women and I really hope to make them proud. In my 29 years so far, I hope I have lived up to the standards that they set for me, and that I continue to do so. When Ron and I have our own family, I hope that my children can count on us the way I was able to count on my Mom and Dad when I was growing up.

With my mom, grandma and my mom's cousins
With my Mom, Grandma and my Mom’s cousins (my aunties) at my wedding, May 16, 2009

To all the women out there who have had a hand in helping a child reach his or her full potential, Happy Mother’s Day from the bottom of my heart.