“Want to play a game?” Mom would ask.
The game turned out to be us pinching and pulling the skin on the tops of our hands in a perpetual dog pile of claw hands. She’d pull/pinch the skin on the top of my right hand with her right hand. While she held the pinch, I put my left hand over her right hand to pinch her skin and hold it while she put her left hand over my left hand and pinched hard. I’d take my right hand from the bottom, and put it over her left hand to pinch, and so on. This game never lasted long, as Mom, smiling, would speed up the process until we ended with a big collapsed hand pile.
This game was not fun. It was painful. Mom pinched hard and enthusiastically. Maybe it was invented for bored Taiwanese schoolchildren trapped on public transit.
"What are you doing?" Mom asked.
"Invading your space."
"Oh gee," she said. "I don't mind."
Mom loves beverages. For fun, she adds orange juice to oolong tea, along with leftover coffee (ground, bagged and ancient, from Marshalls) and week-old wine. Part of me thinks she makes this drink because it disturbs me.
Mom opened my door and threw several socks at my head.
"I found some orphan. Nobody want," she announced.
She closed the door on her way out.
For Christmas, I gave Mom several presents, including a set of artisan felted wool coasters. The set consisted of two yellow coasters and two blue coasters, with an artsy silkscreened design on the top of each coaster.
After a few months, I noticed that Mom consistently used the blue coasters on the correct side and the yellow coasters turned over to wrong side.
"You don’t like the yellow coasters?" I asked her one day.
"Then why do you turn it over to this side?"
"What’s the difference?"
I flipped the coaster over. "This side is the design side."
"Either one. No difference."
"There’s a difference: This is the design side . . . this is not the design side."
"It’s you who buys it, not me."
"That’s true, but I intended for you to use the design side."
"And I intend to use the non-design side as the design side," she said.
On Sunday (Mom’s only day off), I tried to cajole Mom into organizing the guest bedroom closet, which houses her collection of cheapo pastel cotton clothing that she buys from one of Dad's medical patients out of their home store/garage. You can’t walk into the closet without getting irritated by the plastic bags housing giant, billowy comforters that take up most of the floor and tangle with your feet like leeches.
Mom grumbled about not wanting to clean, but followed me into the guest room anyway.
In addition to the usual jumble, there were several other bags crowding the floor. Mom brings five bags to and from work, and tosses them in random places when she gets home.
I watched as she rummaged through everything, unearthing Tupperware, smashed newspaper clippings, various-SPF tinted moisturizer tubes, Sudoku fun time, crumb-filled magazines, piles of scratch paper cut into random sizes, bobby pins, medical billing papers, crunchy Japanese broad beans, hairbrushes, and library books featuring knitting tutorials, British writers and Taiwanese schoolteachers.
She paused when she reached a mysterious plastic bag.
“What’s this? Oh!”
It was salami and a jolly trio of Trader Joe's cheeses.
“How long has this been here?” I asked.
She couldn’t remember. “Four days?” she mused. She opened the salami and commenced a smörgåsbord.
Several years ago, Mom and I visited Japan during cherry blossom season. While there, Mom found out that her mom had cancer and was awaiting surgery in the hospital.
That night, Mom lay on the bed in our room at the ryokan. “Emmie, my mom is sick . . . what if I lose her?” she asked.
I tried to think of something kind and comforting to say.“Well, she is 86,” I said.
"May I?" Mom asked impishly. She plucked the stick of butter off the table and smashed/spread it directly onto her toast like she was crushing ants and shoveling a sidewalk at the same time.
"No!" I said.
"But . . . this way . . . I don't waste . . . " she protested.
Open butter sticks in the fridge were always studded with wheat toast crumbs, but this was the first time I'd seen her in action. It took me a while to realize that she meant to save water by not washing a knife.
"Am I more like you, or like Dad?"
Mom thought for a while, stirring her tea eggs.
"You are from outer space," she answered.
"How about Petra and Claire?"
"They are from outer space too. That's why you are sisters."
Mom sailed into the room and went straight to my closet.
“Why are you hiding wine in your closet?!”
“I’m not hiding it; I buy bottles in case I need wine for parties.”
She groped a purple dress on its hanger. “What’s this?!?”
“A shirt. Why are you poking around in my closet?”
She turned to me. “I had a dream that you were hiding our checkbook in your closet. We order checkbook. They haven’t come in the mail yet.”
“Are you hiding them in your closet?”
“Yes,” I said. “Why would I hide your checkbooks in my closet?”
“It was in my dream,” she replied.
“What did you do to the avocado?” Mom grumbled.
“It got mushy when I mixed it with the cucumber and tomatoes," I replied. "I guess it's like guacamole. But it's not too bad, right?"
“It's not poisonous,” she said begrudgingly.
“Can you teach me how to make curtains?” I asked Mom.
“Yes,” she said pleasantly. “You just buy them from the store.”
“But I’m picky about fabric, so I want to make them myself.”“I suggest you not to do it,” she responded.
I found a long, pointy knit hat in the living room.
Mom sidled over and plucked a library book from her knitting/sewing/odds-and-ends/magazines/junkpile table. She opened to a “Winter Hats for Gnomes” page.
“I knit these for the kids,” she said, showing me the book and two more hats. She’d used thick, gorgeously-saturated Malabrigo yarns from Uruguay, dyed in red, green and blue.
“Cute,” I said.
Petra had already told Mom to stop knitting for her kids (4, 4 and 2), since they had refused to wear her nice but slightly itchy creations.
I planned a trip from Taipei down to central Taiwan.
“You are taking the train?” Dad asked.
“Don’t eat or drink anything for several hours before.”
“You don’t want to use the bathroom on the train.”
“Make sure not to eat or drink anything for several hours,” he repeated.
Later, Mom took me aside.
“Emmie,” she said. “You don’t want to use the bathroom on the train.”
“Yeah, Dad told me.”
“Emmie. It is important. Make sure you don’t eat or drink anything before you get on. If you do, you’ll be sorry.”
"I guess the bathrooms are disgusting?"
"It was so terrible," she said.
I came downstairs one morning and found this in the kitchen.
A giant pig ear.
In response to my questions, Mom said that she'd seen it at the market and was curious.
Mom came into the room with a bunch of bags (containing the usual - lightly used paper towels, lunch Tupperware and crusty bowls, crumpled magazine clippings, starchy crumbs, bobby pins, coins, Asian seed/tea/powdered grain drink mixes, Taiwanese newspaper articles, medical billing papers, cash in recycled envelopes, scribbled doodles and scraps of paper, a hairbrush or two, knitting stitch markers, receipts, stray hairs, paper clips, powder that had fallen out of the drink mix packets, assorted make-up from Target, lotion and maybe a dead gnat).
She noticed a package on the kitchen table.
“Something I can eat?”
“UPS pouches,” I replied.
She looked disenchanted.
“Nothing I can eat?”
“You’re welcome to eat them.”
“Bad child,” Mom said, and went upstairs.
Occasionally, I watch a movie with Mom.
I’m nearsighted, so I sit close to the TV, with a couple of blankets and a mug of hot water nearby. Mom spreads out on the couch, like a pillow.
No matter how good the movie is, she falls asleep. I turn around every ten minutes or so to check.
If I'm in the house when Mom comes home from work, she opens the door and says, "Monster?"
[That's me doing dishes. It's a sloppy drawing]
I lived with my parents for a few years during the recession, ruining their house with my greeting cards and tornado-like workstation that ate their first floor.