Mom’s always been the pillar of the family. The rock. She absorbs worries, and always is the one to reflect those into a calm. She’s got everything under her control. She never loses her temper; she never panics.
Until we have to go to my grandma’s house.
I’ve never really been a big fan of family reunions, especially on my Dad’s side. Most definitely on my dad’s side. I see my mom’s side enough to not actually have family reunions, but my family’s more distant to my paternal relatives, so family reunions become a thing. And in my point of view, they’re awkward, formal, and get-me-out-of-here. We usually meet Christmases and Chu-suk, a holiday that is known as the Mid-Autumn Festival here in the US.
Both times, Grandma expects Mom to cook the food.
Thus, when we go to her house, Grandma lounges around and does nothing while Mom works in the kitchen, moving and stirring multiple steaming pots at once. After all, she has to cook for nine people. There is a old Korean unspoken tradition of how mother-in-laws are supposed to haze (for a lack of better word) their daughter-in-laws. Sons were precious, so they would see if their daughter-in-laws were worthy of being wed to their sons by making them clean, cook, and transform in to Cinderella.
In the modern day world, however, this only happened on soap operas.
In my younger ages, I had always thought that Grandma had watched too many Korean soap operas for her own good. Dad and Mom had always told me that sometimes, what one watched on television could impact their behaviors and perspectives, even if it was incorrect. So I thought that maybe Grandma had just been led the wrong way by evil stepmothers.
Now, I was definitely, one hundred percent convinced that she just liked seeing people suffer.
My strong dislike for my grandmother isn’t unwarranted. In her defense, she’s never done wrong to me, but in my defense, she’s done everything wrong to my parents. She was the second highest paid voice actor in the entirety of Korea (also, see: rich as hell). Whenever I turned on the television and flipped channels, her voice would always be on one of them, having narrated countless of commercials, reality shows, and documentaries.
But you see, it was a known fact in our family that my grandmother loved money. She and money had an exclusive, no dating others relationship: when my parents had just gotten married, and my dad had no money because he was attending law school, my grandma had said that she had no money.
After telling my mom (who was pregnant at that time) that if Mom and Dad were really desperate to earn money, she should go work at a supermarket, my grandmother went on a cruise to Paris with the no money.
I’ve never really understood why she’s been this way. Dad told me that it was because her parents doted on her; they never made her lift a finger, and she took that for granted. And even at seventy, her selfish tendencies has yet to disappear.
However, whether her meanness is justified or not, she beckons me to sit down next to her and tell her about boarding school while my mom, alone, stays in the kitchen. Whenever she looks at Mom, condescendence is etched into her saccharine smile. I try to stay focused on Grandma’s mouth moving as she asks me something, but all I see is my mom, alone and vulnerable.
It breaks my heart.
I’ve always had this preconceived notion that Mom is invincible. You know, like the long lost Supergirl or some version of a comical Marvel hero. Mom’s title went like this: My mother, ultimate fixer upper, heart mender, owner of indestructible super powers. Whenever something is broken, or I’m convinced I’m broken and upset, Mom is the one on my number one speed dial. She’s always been my anti-kryptonite shield for the longest I can remember. Still is.
She’s always protected me; never vice-versa.
But this is the first time I notice that she too, can be vulnerable. This is the first time that I notice that my mother is feeling lonely and sad in a sea of familiar faces, that she can too need to be protected.
“Hey Mom,” I say brightly, getting up. “Why don’t you sit down and watch television with Dad? I’ll cook. Looks like you’re almost done.”
Mom frowns at me. I know what she’s thinking. That Grandma’s going to think that Mom put me up to this, and leading into a vicious cycle, she’s going to dislike Mom even more. In Grandma’s eyes, I’m the sweet granddaughter who has half of her DNA, and Mom is just an outsider. Always has been, even if my parents are almost at their twentieth anniversary.
And to me, that’s more than enough of a justifiable reason to hate family reunions.
Scraping the last remains of the food onto plates, I bring them up to the table.
I’m done seeing Mom being mistreated.
I slam the plates down.