Am I Really Writing This?

I did two things today I don’t usually do: go to a tai chi class and brag about my mother. And the two are actually related.

I’ve taken tai chi classes a few times over the past 20 or so years. I always enjoy it when I’m there, but I don’t do too well keeping up with the movements outside of class, and gradually I lose interest. I decided to check out a training center in my neighborhood and give it another go. And this time will be different! I’ll master the form, and go to class a couple of times a week, and get up at the crack of dawn to practice before the rising sun – well, if I could see it through the two-flats and the god-awful single-family monstrosity somebody with way more money than good taste built across the street from us. Yeah, that’s it, this time I’ll stick with it!

Or maybe not.

My mother enters into the equation because at some point during one of my past attempts, she decided to give tai chi a shot at the local senior center. She loved it. She kept with it. And now she has mastered the form and goes to classes a couple of times a week and gets up at the crack of – ok, she doesn’t get up at sunrise to practice. But she’s really dedicated, and I bragged a little bit about her to one of the teachers I met today.

It’s amazing, at least to most Westerners, that at her age she’s so into tai chi. And we are not talking about an aging bohemian, intellectual-artist type who has always defied norms and cultivated the new. My mother is a second-generation immigrant who grew up on a farm, never went to college, and has lived all of maybe two months of her life away from a very small area in the town where she was born. Away from the house where she was born. She lives on land my grandparents gave her and my father, next to the house where my grandmother plopped her out and then went back to the orchards like O-lan in the Good Earth.

Where it all began

Where it all began

(Uh, the last part might not be totally true.)

No, we’re not talking Appalachia or some deserted stretch of the Great Plains – this is the urban Northeast, for godsakes. But it is one fairly rural corner of the megalopolis, and hers is actually not too uncommon an experience in this little slice of farmland fighting to hold off encroaching suburbia.

It’s fitting, I think, that I bragged about Ma today; it’s her birthday. Number 83, I don’t think she would mind me telling (besides, she’ll never know, since she doesn’t read this). It’s also a little out of character. You see, if you happened to see the solo show, you know I painted her as a bit of a heavy. And I have in other writings too, either by name or as the model for the demanding mother portrayed. And therapy, let’s not forget how I’ve raked her over the coals in therapy, good Lord!

Now, I did write a more flattering account in a semi-autobiographical tale of her, her sisters, and my grandmother (Rosary Peas, available through the author for staging for a nominal royalty). In that case, it was the aunts who came out none-too-good. So much so that when one who lived in Florida asked to read the script, I hedged and dodged and weaved, always coming up with an excuse why I couldn’t send a copy. Then she forgot about it. And then she died. I guess I’m in the clear (except karmically, of course).

But besides Rosary Peas, I’ve not always been so publicly complimentary of my mother. And I know that’s not fair. She tried to be a good parent, I think. She made some mistakes, just as I’m sure I would if I had kids to raise. Not knowing the challenges of parenthood (and the joys), I am loath to judge anyone else’s child-rearing skills. I have not always been so magnanimous, especially with her…and God knows I have not always been the best child. So we’re even.

My relationship with my mother is better than it’s ever been (no, not just because we’re 900 miles apart, but that might not hurt…). I can appreciate a lot of things about her: She has finally wised up and come around to my way of thinking on most political issues. She has always given her time to the church and other organizations. She stays busy with cultural activities. She eats hummus! (Her Italian mother is spinning.) Are there still flaws? Of course there are still flaws. But I think she’s done OK. And she does tai chi better than I can. But just for now. ‘Cuz when I master the form, and go to class a couple of times a week, and get up at the crack of dawn to practice before the rising sun – watch out.

I know, you wouldn't like this photo

Happy birthday, Ma.


~ by mburgan on October 5, 2008.

One Response to “Am I Really Writing This?”

  1. I will assume that I can not show her this one. I think you might understand now why I enjoyed being part of a forum, I could tell MY SIDE of the story and be validated.

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