Please Look after Mom

On Christmas eve I gave everyone in my family a copy of the book Please Look after Mom.

There’s a reason for that.

When Lincoln’s wife delivered a baby, she – a Chinese born in Canada – declared to all us, while pointing to her newborn, that “No way am I going to let this creature ruin my life.”

At the time, I wondered in my heart “Why did you get pregnant in the first place?” “What kind of a mother are you to think of her newborn baby in such a manner?”

I have since left Hong Kong where I worked with Lincoln and have lost touch with Lincoln and his wife but I often wonder how they are doing. Lincoln’s wife is the first example I’ve seen of a woman like that.

For sure, I’ve come across other examples of less-than-perfect mothers – from the pharmaceutical rep who was so promiscuous (she took men home) that one of her sons scribbled on the wall outside her house “My mother is a slut” to the housewife who closed an eye when her own daughter was raped by the housewife’s boyfriend.

But thank God, most mothers love their own offsprings beyond belief and would not do anything to harm them.

Yin wakes up in the morning at 6 and drives one of her two teenage sons to school. She then goes to the market to buy fresh food. She comes home to prepare lunch for her two boys – not hastily prepared meals, mind you, but usually, complete, nutritionally-balanced, wholesome meals which she then cling wraps and labels.  Because both boys’ taste buds are not similar – very often she actually prepares two separate meals and labels them with each boy’s names. Then she goes off to her surgery to start her professional work. At about five, while still at surgery, she would phone her two sons, who would be heading home from Poly and school by about that time, if they need dinner and if so, what they would like to eat. She will then come home with the dinner – usually a cooked meal purchased from outside. She does that every weeknight, including the two weeknights a week when she has to drive back to do night surgery. On weekends she makes every effort to do some cooking herself and invites her married daughter (and her son-in-law) home to dine. In addition to that, Yin has housework and laundry to do. (They do not have a live-in domestic helper.) She also ensures that the fridge is always stocked with fresh fruits and that there are enough healthy snacks at home and that there’s enough ice for drinks, etc.

I know her routine because Yin is my wife, my tireless wife – I often wonder where she gets her energy from and my ex-MBA student and good friend Kiki tells me that Yin “is fueled by the love for her sons.” I believe Kiki is right because I as the husband often feel very neglected and even resentful at times. I often accuse her of spoiling our boys. “One is 18 and one is 16 – they know how to prepare their own meals and they jolly well know how to phone for a pizza worse comes to the worst,” I’d say. Yin tells me she really doesn’t mind doing all that for our boys day in and day out because she really enjoys taking care of them; besides, time flies and before you know it, our boys will soon become grown men and there won’t be many more opportunities to do stuff for them.

My own mom left us nearly 19 years ago after a long illness. I miss her a lot. She was a very caring mother who continued to fuss over my sis and I even when we were adults. Whenever I think of my mom and compare her with my wife, my heart always feels a tug. What a privilege and honor it is to be the children of these two wonderful women, and to be the fortunate recipients of their unstinting love.

A mother’s love is something no writer can ever write about adequately and eloquently enough.

I look at Mauro’s wife, Tess – confident, humorous, a career woman, an occasional smoker and the moment little Amedeo was born this attractively tall and dignified woman, quit smoking, turned all maternal and even more lovely; her statuesque beauty really stands out as she cradles the little one in her arms, cooing to him, loving him, comforting him. What a transformation! What a lovely picture of maternal love! I believe women who have never had children miss something big time.

I stumbled across the English translation of Please Look after Mom by the South Korean writer Kyung-sook Shin quite by accident and was instantly hooked. I have read other Korean novels before but this one is a real gem.

I finished it during one of my long flights and cried like a baby while reading it. Oh boy, it was embarrassing – a grown man, bawling his eyes out; eyes all swollen and nose runny. The cabin crew thought somebody had died and I was flying home to attend a funeral.

The book opens with a family in disarray. Mom got lost, separated from Father by the closing doors of a subway car in a busy train station in Seoul. A day, a week, then nearly a month goes by and Mom is still missing. Mom’s husband and adult children are not only worried, but crippled with guilt and regret, fumbling “in confusion, as if they had all injured a part of their brains.”

Shin’s prose, intimate and haunting, moves from first to second and third person, and powerfully conveys grief’s bewildering immediacy. Daughter Chi-hon’s voice is the novel’s most distinct, but Father’s is the most devastating.

To tell you more is to deprive you the pleasure of reading this book.

Suffice it for me to say that this is a must-read for everyone who has a mother.

Which is the reason why I gave everyone in my family a copy of this book this Christmas eve.

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