Since the start of this caramel affair, my mom has urged me to let her help with my caramels. She’s asked me to let her cut paper, wrap the caramels, and anything else that does not involve cooking (don’t be quick to judge, she is a killer cook at home). I’ve always refused…partly because I’ve been too embarassed and or proud to accept help, but moreso because the work is physically taxing. I did not want my mother, at her-age-which-I-shall-not-disclose, to be stuck at my commissary slaving away with me like Charlie Bucket’s dad screwing caps onto tubes of toothpaste. I was also ashamed that unlike many of my peers and two cousins who share my age, I was not a doctor or lawyer like I said I would be or some other sort of successful professional. One night, I woke up from a nightmare that my dad had passed away while my mom screamed at me that the last thing my dad did before his last breath was wrap my damn caramels. I later confessed this dream to my mother, who was amused enough to tell my dad. His response: “Well? Did you ask her how she felt about that?” It’s a good thing they have a sense of humour.
The truth is, my dad and I are kindred spirits but I have never really gotten along with my mother. Up until recently, we have shared the most tumultuous relationship. Those who know me well are aware of this fact. The older I become, the more I realize that it is partly because while I share my dad’s temperament, my mom and I are more similar than we like to admit. But because of our relationship and history, which would require conversation over several nights and bottles of scotch to explain, I have kept her somewhat distant.
A few weeks ago however, I finally gave in and accepted my mom’s offer to help. I called her up one day, overwhelmed with my workload. She replied “Oh Steph, I know. I already cleared tomorrow just for you!” and arrived the next day ready to work, showing off her bag of gadgets and snacks, which hilariously included a handheld fan as well as a cleaver. Last week, while I was at a craft fair all day, she insisted on going into the kitchen with my dear aunt (and her best friend) to wrap the latest batch. When I told her I was incredibly sorry I could not be with her that day (I hate leaving her alone in the kitchen), she replied that I shouldn’t be sorry because at the end of the day, my family just wants me to be happy. That sure didn’t help with the guilt or the resulting waterworks on my end, but it has reminded me that regardless of the years of fighting and heads butting, there is nothing as unwavering as a mother’s love and this is something I know I won’t fully understand until I too, one day, am a mother.
I still feel incredibly guilty that she is helping me, but something else tells me that this experience is good for both of us. For one, I now get to practice my Cantonese again, which means that soon perhaps, my grandmother won’t hang up laughing every time I call her and I won’t be left frustrated that I have lost almost all grasp of what was once my first language. Secondly, I get treated to my mom’s home cooking, which I dearly miss; her recent culinary obsession is black garlic, and like the Frank’s Red Hot lady, she puts that shi*t on everything and urges me to do the same. Most importantly, I believe that this experience is helping us heal and bond (Yes, Jon. If you’re reading this, we always gossip about you! We love you and are so proud of you!). Every time she comes into the kitchen, she has new ideas about what I can change to improve my business. When I get anxious or freaked out, she tells me to calm down and focus on one thing at a time (and eat more black garlic while I’m at it). ”Less talking, more rocking” is our motto, but I don’t remember ever laughing so much with my mom or working so well as a team as we do now. One time even my dad surprisingly helped (I held my breath in fear when he reached for a bag of caramels, recalling that horrible nightmare) but it gave us a mild heart attack when we realized that he had mislabelled several bags upside down. We laughed about my dad’s “trial shift” afterwards: “Aiya, Stephahnee! Your dad means well but he doesn’t pay attention like me! Even when I cut the parchment papers I do it with all my heart!” I believe that while my mom takes solace in the fact that I finally admit that I need her and she is able to respond and help, I have finally accepted her advice that taking help is not a sign of weakness. I’ve perceived myself as such a disappointment or embarrassment for most of my life that I never anticipated that my mom would become my biggest cheerleader, as we’ve caught her scowling at a customers when they walk away at craft fairs without buying and she’d text me for hourly sales updates. Most of all when I watch my mom work with me, I am reminded what it means to act fully from the heart, even in the face of fear and uncertainty.
I think most of us don’t realize how human our parents actually are. It wasn’t until my grandfather’s health started to deteriorate that I saw my mom in roles as a daughter, a sister, a partner, and a human being with flaws and struggles like the rest of us rather than an overbearing tiger mom with old school methods. That iron fist that she raised my brother and me with was really just a hard exterior masking a sensitive and compassionate interior. Ultimately, life is too short to waste energy on resentment or being hung up on who is right or wrong.
As I look around me at the commissary, I see that I am not alone when it concerns the company of mothers. My colleagues’s mothers are seen filling pies, delivering cakes, infusing hand-crafted honey, and being our most trusted critics. I hope that when you enjoy your next artisan product, you will be nourished by the sincerity and love with which it was created To all the amazing mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day. We love you and would not be able to truck through each week without your dedication and support.
P.S. grandpa (gong-gong) wherever you are, if you’re reading this too, I finally understand what you meant about mom and me. Thank you. I miss you.