Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Best Character I Know

As a writer and lifelong reader, I spend a lot of time thinking about characters -- what makes them tick, what they would do in my life, if I would even want someone like them in my life. But, by far, the best character I know and spend the most time thinking about is my mom.

My mother has all the workings of a great literary figure -- she's complex and flawed, but consistently well-intentioned. She's also humorous and adventurous, but oddly sensitive, which she covers up skillfully with her opinionated demeanor. And she was part of the best love story on Earth.

Elizabeth Bennet would sit down and shut up in her presence. And probably start taking notes.

Don't believe me? Well here's just some of the pearls from the necklace of wisdom she's been fashioning for me for the last 35 years:
Don't ever marry a boring man. Men get more boring as they get older.

You should wear heels and dance on a table at least once in your life.
Always have one kitchen for every woman living in a house. (This advice was given when we knew two brothers sharing a house with their respective wives. Shortly thereafter they had a huge falling out and one moved out.)

When you host a big party, pay the maitre'd $50 up front, before the event starts.

Even Princess Diana wasn't good enough for her mother-in-law. (Given when a friend of mine was having problems with her mother-in-law)

Don't compare yourself to anyone. When I think back, all the times I behaved badly it was because I was comparing myself to someone. (This is my favorite, because it not only shows her honesty, but also her unflinching courage.)
One of my favorite stories about my mother is how she made us "smurf" chicken. My brother and I both liked tandoori chicken (which she would make without the spices for us as kids). One day we asked her why it had to be red--can it be blue? She said sure, and the next day threw some blue food coloring in with a yogurt marinade and made us blue chicken. Though it tasted good, smurf chicken never took off as a household favorite. But it did make me realize as a child that my mother really was willing to do anything in her power to make me and my brother happy.

Since moving to Boston six months ago, I've gotten to spend more time with my mother. I also turned 35, which means I actually have memories of my mother when she was my age. Which is weird. And astounding.

She used to make three dinners every night -- a pasta dish for me, meat for my brother, and Indian food for her and my father. And this was after working a full day as a doctor. I usually don't have the energy to cook for myself.

She also ran a private practice, took care of the finances and kept a roof over our head. My father, and my brother and I by extension, had a compulsion for giving the shirts off our backs. My mother always found a way to buy another one... or sew one from scratch, if times were tough.

And she's done all this without much recognition. Her saying about Princess Diana is especially poignant because my father's charm and charisma made him the prince of his family, and I highly doubt that any woman with a personality would have been good enough for him in his family's eyes.

But my mother's love was unconditional, by all accounts.

A few years ago I traveled to India and stayed with my parents' med school classmate. One afternoon, as we sat on the veranda after a monsoon shower, she confided in me:

"I was so envious of your mom. I'd never seen anyone love another person so purely as she loved your dad. I remember being so envious of her, even as a teenager. Not many people saw her virtues back then, but your father did. And your mom has many virtues."

My thoughts exactly.

1 comment:

Marisa said...

Oh Min! That's wonderful! My favorite story about your mom is how she felt so guilty about having to give the cat diet cat food that she just gave him twice as much. Your mom is such an amazing nuturer. Please give her a big mother's day hug from me too!

Love ya!