Happy Mother's Day everyone! Strangely when I think about Mother's Day, what comes to mind is not overpriced flowers or chocolate or hallmark cards, I think of mackerel, the smelly oily fish that was the household staple of my youth. Why would Mother's Day correlate with this pungent seafood? I've been thinking that myself.
I remember when I was in 3rd grade watching the girls around me in envy as they opened up their Wonderbread sandwiches and each took a moment to read the little folded heart shaped notes their mothers made them. I was disgruntled that my mother never packed me a lunch but hastily threw a couple dollars on the dresser every morning so I can buy it. I remember enviously seeing class mothers come in and participate in class and help set up events. I remember, seeing kids bringing their amazing science projects and presentations to school. It was obvious that their parents toiled away and created immaculate presentations, while their child held the glue stick. Whenever I brought home a project assignment, it was in danger of being held together with rice. When school was over I remember seeing all the class moms set up the snacks for the Girl Scout Brownies. I so wished my mom was one of them, each mom looking enthusiastic and prim. When I got home from school I would want to unwind with episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but when my mom got home from work, she would have the audacity to turn off the TV so we can do homework. Of course, unprompted she took the liberty to oversee every aspect of this. Sometimes she was frustrated because she didn't know how to pronounce some of my spelling words, or knew what they meant. "Why your teacher give your this word??" she would say annoyed. Either way, I had to spell each word, solve each math problem, and read every book to the level of her satisfaction. Then dinner came along and what I wanted more than anything was American food, like I saw on TV. I wanted mashed potatoes and gravy with meatloaf in the form of one of those microwavable TV dinners, but many nights my heart and my stomach sank as I heard the loud angry sizzle and crackle of the frying pan. I knew what was for dinner...
That smelly oily fish never went silently into the night (or the iron skillet) without spraying around every particle of its oily existence, creating a thin malodorous layer of grease. By the time the fish was fried every surface of our kitchen was laminated with the stuff. This smell of mackerel grease combined with the aroma of kimchi and garlic that ever permeated our house, was like a type of olfactory napalm. We tried to dissuade her, but my mother was impervious to our mackerel protests. Hungry and tired when I was ready to finally partake of the meal, I had to exert effort in picking out all the big pieces of fish bone that were interlaced through the meat. The small pieces had to be chewed heartily lest they get lodged in your throat. I have not-so-fond memories of that happening, only to be relieved by swallowing whole spoonfuls of rice. Mackerel, rice, side dishes, and kimchi was the routine in our house. After every dinner I was peeved that my food never left me, as the smell had become one with my shirt.
Now ironically, mackerel is one of my favorite foods. I love to order it when I go to Korean Restaurants. Now, I crave the crispy salty oily goodness of it. When placed sizzling before me, I readily dig in, separating the big bones and gulping down each savory bite with rice. I would cook it more often if my husband didn't protest against the odor so much. He would look at me in puzzlement as to why would I order mackerel at a Korean restaurant, a food that was so pedestrian and unfavored in my youth? For one, my adult palate realizes now that it's absolutely delicious and healthy. It's packed with nutrients that boost your immune system, brain and nerve development, while fighting cancer agents in your cells not to mention it's high in calcium. Each mackerel is a humble package for all those benefits. In the same way, it reminds me of my mother. She was a wife and a mother of two kids, working full time and often taking classes and faithfully volunteered at church. She could have easily resorted to a microwavable dinner now and then, but she took the time to cook mackerel. Now each crispy bite reminds me that she always wanted to give her best despite her weariness. It reminds me of her unending patience towards our complaining and griping. It reminds me of long nights where she took the time to go through our homework not allowing her English deficiencies get in the way. Like the small calcium-rich fish bones that needed extra chewing and weeding through, my mother didn't mind being inconvenienced and putting in effort, if it yielded worthwhile results. Though I never got Wonderbread sandwiches for lunch, or heart shapes notes, or immaculate science projects, or microwavable foods (thank goodness), what I did receive was far more valuable. She taught me to never give up, that limited skills and time is no excuse to not give life your best shot, and lastly remember to be faithful to God and be grateful for the life you've been given... and if you need to be daechoong here and there to get by, don't sweat it.
As a mother I can only hope to emulate her willingness to sacrifice, to give of herself, and to teach. Though I didn't realize at the time those mundane mackerel dinners taught me something. I hope this Mother's Day you are able to show your mother some love, I know I am so grateful for mine. What are some of the everyday mundane things about your childhood that remind you of your mother?
Some pictures from Waikiki, I'm so blessed to be a mother to these munchkins=)