My mom and dad called last Friday. Actually my mom did. Mom’s always the one that calls. And she always calls around 9 pm when it is the absolutely most friggin’ chaotic in the house. And she always pleads innocence saying she cannot figure out the time difference. And she always asks, “Have you eaten yet?” even after I tell her “It is 9 pm here. Ma!”
“It is cold there now, right? It is freezing here.” My mom says. Every single time during the winter. Did I tell you that they live in Taiwan? A sub-tropical island? The temperature in Taipei was supposed to reach 69 °F that day (as opposed to 36 °F here in Chicago and actually considered to be warm since it is finally above friggin’ freezing…)
“Ma. Sigh. You do know that the weather there has nothing to do with the weather here, right?” I could not bite my tongue and just let this one go.
“But it is really cold here. I bet it feels colder here.” My mom is a “last-worder” too: that’s probably where I got it. Between my husband and myself, my kids are doomed both nature- and nurture-wise. “Do you want to talk to your dad? Oh wait. Your dad wants to talk to you. Actually, he asked me to call you.”
Pleasantly surprised since my dad never wanted to talk to me on the phone, not that he loves me less but because he’s a man, I screamed, “Ba!” (The Chinese word for “Dad”) when my mom handed him the receiver. At 80, my dad is hard of hearing nowadays.
“Have you eaten yet?” He said, without a beat.
Sigh. “Yes. I have.”
“Is it snowing in Chicago because it is really cold here.”
Sigh. “Actually it is warmer today because it is above freezing.”
“Really? That’s something.”
“So… what’s going on? What are you doing today?” I know better than to expect my 80-year-old father to tell me something exciting in his plan for the day.
“Nothing. Just watching TV…. You haven’t called home for a long time. Is your husband still out of the country?”
“Yeah. He’s in Spain this time.”
“That’s what I thought when you didn’t call home for a long time. You must be very busy with the kids then.”
As if on cue, my oldest came to stand by my side and whispered loudly, “Mom. Mom. Mom!”
I glared at him and pressed my point finger to my lips. Ignoring my gesture, he continued,
“Mom! My gum hurts because my tooth here,” he proceeded to open his mouth with both hands so I could see better, “See? It is coming out. My tooth! My gum hurts!”
I turned my back towards him. He did not give up and came around to the other side, “So I need to go see a dentist…”
“Dad. Hold on. Just a sec.” I switched to English to deal with the dental crisis that was not, “Can’t you see I am on the phone with my parents? We’ll talk about this later.”
As if he did not hear what I just said, he switched to a brand new subject, “Mom, we need to pick up my new glasses!”
“I will. Tomorrow! I need to bring you with when we pick up your glasses…” I gritted my teeth.
All this time, Mr. Monk was on the floor pouring sugar into a bowl so he could make crystals according to the science book that he got last November. He never showed interest in the darn book until I was on the phone. Now he was next to me as well,
“Mom. What is a saucer?… Is it this?” He pulled out the biggest pot to show me, making a loud clattering noise.
“NO! That is NOT a saucer. And why do you need a saucer NOW for god’s sake?!” I raised my voice.
Seriously. They were quietly reading at the kitchen table before the phone rang. It just seems that EVERY TIME when I am on the phone, all of a sudden they have urgent information to share, questions to ask, emergencies to deal with. The sky is falling! We need your attention NOW!
I could hear my dad on the other side of the phone line: “It sounds like your children need you. I just want to hear you voice. We’ll talk later.”
“No. Dad!” He hung up before I could protest further. I frantically tried to dial my parents’ phone number. I am not making this up: in order to call my folks, I need to dial 22 friggin’ numbers. That’s right. 22. After the third try, the call finally went through.
“Mom. Is dad there? Could I talk to him?”
“He hung up on you, didn’t he? That man. He always does that. I told him to give me the phone and he said you were busy! Here he is.”
“Dad. You didn’t have to hang up!”
“But you are busy. You should go tend to the children.”
Exasperated now. “No. They can wait. They are not babies any more. They need to learn to be respectful!”
Of course, all this was said in Chinese so my children did not get any benefits from this lecture which explained why at this exact moment, at the same time, my oldest decided to play on a laptop that ran out of power and was struggling to get the power cord out from behind a desk at the risk of toppling everything that was sitting on the desk, and my youngest decided to pour sugar solution (sugar:water 6:1) from a sauce pot into a shallow saucer.
I watched all of it unfold in slow motion, and I could feel myself boiling. I did not even bother to cover the receiver as I exploded.
“WHY CAN’T YOU SEE THAT I AM TALKING TO MY PARENTS? HOW OFTEN DO I GET TO TALK TO THEM? I AM ONLY ON THE PHONE FOR FIVE MINUTES! DID ANYBODY BLEED? IS ANYBODY DYING? NO? THEN DON’T INTERRUPT ME! NOTHING IS THAT URGENT! Go to your rooms NOW! No. Don’t touch anything. Leave that on the floor. Just GO TO YOUR ROOM!”
Switching to Chinese, “I am back. Dad, what were you saying?” I was expecting him to give me another lecture about being more lady-like.
“Whoa. You sounded just like my mother when we were little.” My dad commented.
My grandmother had 14 children. I have never met her, and my dad has not told me much about his mother, that is, he has never really reminisced about his childhood. When I was around, I was too young to ask these questions; now that I am old enough, I am not around enough.
Not sure whether this was something I should defend myself against, I defended my grandmother instead. “Well. There were so many of you. If she did not yell like that, she probably could not keep all of you in check.”
“That’s what I said. You sounded just like my mother.” He chuckled. “That really reminds me of when I was a kid. We lived on a farm so she could yell like that without disturbing the neighbors.”
Maybe I was just imagining things, but he sounded like he had tears in his eyes when he said again, so quietly this time as if he weren’t talking to me,
“Wow. This really brings back childhood memories.”