By “professional,” I mean that I used to enter these weird storytelling competitions as a child, and it was like any talent show you can think of, except instead of singing or dancing or juggling kittens, I recited a folk tale in Korean. The judges based your score on accuracy (word by word based on the manuscripts they had available), engagement (how well the child worked the crowd), and pure personality (come on, I had this one in the bag!). Now, each story is not like those ten-page books with the giant pictures and the Berenstain Bears running across the cover, but these were legitimately lengthy books.
I had done pretty well for a while, and I was being recognized by old, decaying men who would smack their lips at me and coo about how great it was that I was making a name for myself. I would be immensely grossed out, then feel the power of fame creeping into my heart like a fire. Then, the Holy Grail of competitions dawned upon me. Korean children would flock to this rickety church in Flushing from all the boroughs of New York, and they all desired the prize that was meant to be mine: A brilliant, golden trophy (made of plastic, but shiny gold plastic!) and a whopping one thousand dollars! I was assigned Tortoise and the Hare, and for someone who was at this time much more comfortable with English than Korean, I was one heaping mess of sweat. To this day, I believe I placed in the previous competitions just because the judges found my thick American accent adorable.
I don’t remember a word from that story now, nor do I remember the glitz and the glam of the photographers taking my photo a million times to be in the Korea Times (it was probably a local, unknown paper but I’d like to believe it was the Korea Times) as I held that 2nd place trophy proudly in my hands. All I remember from that experience is my mother, and how much she beamed proudly as she stood next to me on that stage. She looked like a movie star, with bright red lipstick and a chic black pantsuit. I also recall the numerous hours my mother put into helping me memorize my lines, and even as she relentlessly worked a few jobs each day and came home at inhumane hours, I remember vividly us laying in bed and telling the story to each other, line by line. I would swing my tattered puppy slippers over the edge of the underwater-themed comforter, contorting my tongue violently to pronounce each syllable impeccably. My mom would laugh, then slowly drift to sleep. That was probably one of the very few times I actually got to spend quality time with my mother, which makes it that much more valuable to me.
I sat across from my mother today during dinner, and couldn’t help but feel a swell of thanks for this woman who I had the hardest relationship with in my life, but she also blessed me in more ways than I can count, and she made me so very much who I am today. There were several times during the course of our lives that we almost lost each other, and I am so glad God kept bringing us back together.
To me, this Mother’s Day is not about mothers specifically, but I believe wholly that this is about celebrating the people who cared and sacrificed for us, as well as challenged us beyond the scope of what our mere eyes could swallow, all in the name of Love.