May 11, 2016
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
Less than 24 hours after my sister and I decided to get my mom a spa package for Mother’s Day, my mom decided to get a pedicure. Less than 24 minutes after my mom decided to get a pedicure, my sister booked a nail fill for the following day (et tu, Brute?). Morally defeated, I returned to the eternal hell of Groupon to search for ideas. We had decided to go the spa route because a) at 4 ft. 11, my mom is hard to shop for, b) she has better taste than us anyways and c) you can’t put a price on experience.
Me: “What about a paint lounge?”
My sister: “Oh yeah, big night out watching paint dry.”
Me (passive aggressively): “Nice nails you’ve got there, traitor.”
My mom has occasionally told me not to buy her anything for Mother’s Day, using the same voice I use when my roommate asks if I want anything from McDonald’s (that large Oreo McFlurry is happening 100% of the time). And as a thankless child, I never miss an opportunity to capitalize on a commercial holiday to express my love for her – although the odds of my incredibly misguided gifts being returned hovers around 1 in 3. My mom doesn’t ask much from me, but this year she had something in mind other than Japanese cherry blossom themed shower sets (which apparently doesn’t count towards appreciating our Asian heritage).
“You know, I was thinking,” she said, wiping the kitchen counter, “That maybe instead of getting me something this year, you could . . . write me something.”
I was so shocked that I accidentally exited out of the adult salsa lesson Groupon I had been reading. I’m still convinced it would have been a real winner.
“Kelly wrote me this nice card for our anniversary,” she said carefully, “And sometimes when she gets all grumpy, I take it out and I read it. And it makes it a bit easier to deal with, you know? And since you’re a writer, I thought maybe you could write me something for your bad days.”
I’ve been having a lot of bad days lately. When SickNotWeak launched in March, I wasn’t even speaking to my parents, due to a foolish mix of pride and anger. Some of my articles came as a surprise to them, made them feel like I thought they were bad parents. I had been writing for myself for so long that part of me forgot that they weren’t characters – they were my family. They had held my hand in every hospital I’d ever been in, and would continue doing so whether or not we exchanged words.
Great, now I’m openly sobbing in a Mucho Burrito. Did you know I do my best writing/crying to the sound of Shakira and BeyoncÃ©’s “Beautiful Liar?”
My mom is petite and kind of gruff, but she’s also one of the strongest and most beautiful women that I know. I get my high sense of self-worth from her, my love of animals, and unfortunately, not my hair. There has been many a time where we’ve stared at my mother and wondered how such a tiny woman can have so much goddamn hair.
We hugged in the kitchen that day, without patting (which is how you know it’s real), and I realized while writing a simple story about how I felt about my mother should be an easy task for a nonfiction writer, it wasn’t going to be easy at all. Part of living with mental illness is carrying around a lot of guilt and blame, and sometimes there’s a huge temptation to offload that onto your support system. I’m not proud to admit that I have done so in the past. Growing up with bipolar has been a learning experience not just for me, but for my parents, and there’s no book that prepares you for the moment you pull your kid off a bridge, or watch them self-destruct faster than a poorly-formed Survivor alliance. There’s going to be a moment where they can’t understand what you’re going through, and you can’t understand their frustration, and in that moment, you have to push aside anything you don’t understand and cling tightly to what you do know – family.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be perfect, and I only thought it was attainable because my parents did a hell of a job bringing me up. My mom gave up her career to take care of my sister and I, provided us with a dress-up closet worthy of any princess, and taught us how to pick out the best stuffed animals (“you have to make their heads talk!”). She taught me to love flowers (from afar, because I did not inherit her green thumb at all), she taught me to use chopsticks and she taught me to like myself. Her love and support is probably why my elementary school art projects looked something like this:
As I grew up and realized that contrary to popular belief, I was nowhere near perfect, I didn’t deal with it well. I was diagnosed with bipolar and convinced myself that my parents were using it to control me. I tried to run away, with mixed results. What I didn’t realize at the time was that they were just scared, and all they knew how to do was hold on tighter in the dark.
Oh fuck you Mucho Burrito guy, I’m totally not being weird right now. My tears are beautiful and moving and only add to the guacamole’s vibrant flavour.
When I gained 20 pounds on medication, my mom took me shopping for new clothes that wouldn’t remind me of the demons I had gained. When I started at a new hospital, she drove me to every appointment and asked the questions I was too scared to ask. When I was worried that no one would love me like this, my mom always did. Because that’s what my mom does – she makes things beautiful from their roots.
I guess if you asked me what I loved most about her, I would want to answer in the moments when she’s curled up on the couch, sandwiched between our two tiny dogs and watching HGTV. Or maybe when she’s out in her garden, planting yet another Japanese maple (now that’s how you celebrate mixed race heritage!). We don’t need a lot of words to know how we feel about each other or maybe that’s just what I’ve been telling myself all these years – but a few more can’t hurt. I love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day!