Wednesday, June 17, 2009

With Great Power

I was in the kitchen making gyoza when I heard the footsteps of my daughter clacking across the wood floor the sound worked in concert with the lilt of her voice, speaking what my mother would call sushi English. That phrase would still fit but I would describe her truncated sentences punctuated with slang as text talk spoken. I eavesdropped for a moment absorbing fragments that caused me to wonder why my husband and I have driven the same cars for a decade so that we could send Ms. Shakespeare to a private school. The thought of cars not leased, clothes not purchased and trips not taken put a forlorn look on my face.

My daughter noticed my grimace of sacrifice and abandoned the BFF smile she was wearing, tilted her head, and kissed me on the cheek. Her affection caused my what if face to morph into a grateful glow and all thoughts of shiny new hybrid Hondas melted away. As she turned I watched the sway of her hips and I guess because I was still thinking of cars I wondered when exactly my child got junk in her trunk? I don’t have junk in my trunk; I wouldn’t mind a little junk in my trunk but in my case that would require surgery. I chalked it up Darwin and the benefits of a multi-racial heritage. I also noticed her bust rise and fall as she talked staccato to who I hoped was one of her fave fives, I kept looking at my little girl even as my rose colored spectacles shattered into lasik lasers that performed corrective surgery on my reality. After a few blinks I was pulled into a memory.

I was fourteen as I walked into the kitchen my mother looked up smiled sweetly and then morphed into a look of Buddha-like concentration. I knew I was in for it when she spoke to me in Japanese; she only did that when the conversation was intimate or she was angry. “Camile” she said, what size bras did we buy last week? I said: “C’ my mother looked down at he own chest and said: “I’m a B I think you too many Big Macs!” She put down her knife and said we need to talk” My heart began pumping and I wondered what precious bit of privacy she was going to violate. At fourteen my privacy was a world full of deeds and things that I thought were of utmost important and certainly never to be shared. I stood smiling sweetly as she talked. She was concerned that I had become a woman without her truly noticing and she wanted to inform me of some things that were very important as I blossomed.

Blossomed was her word and any written description of the translation fails to convey the delicate and nuanced way she spoke to me. My mother’s gift with our native language made even the mundane or practical become haiku. In juxtaposition her English operated more like daggers.

Despite her delicate tact sweat began to break out on the back of my neck; we had already had the monthly visitor talk, and the I ‘m not raising any grandchildren talk. So I began to tremble thinking she had found the Sears & Roebuck hand mixer under my mattress and deduced that the device could be used without the beaters for recipes of a more personal nature. (Someone please tell me I am not the only one!)

Instead she launched into a discussion about maturity, the size of my breasts and my vagina. I’m going to repeat that last word again my VAGINA! Her delicate lilt cast aside she switched to English and went at her point with a frankness that would make Eve Ensler catch her breath. I won’t go into detail but I will say that basically she gave me what I now call the Spiderman speech. For those that don’t know or remember that’s the speech when Peter Parker (Spiderman) gets sage advice from his grandfather, and old grandpa says “With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s pretty much what my mother said while pointing at my breasts and vagina. By the end of her talk the color had drained from my face and I staggered out of the room horrified. She told me that my power was not really in my body parts that only the boys perceived it was and also that this power should be stored until a more appropriate time. After all there was no need to toss it around frivolously. She stressed the not tossing it around part and I wondered sheepishly if the mixer counted. Between her frankness and the metaphors I had heard enough. I promised to protect my blossom and use my blossoming femininity wisely and I reminded her I didn’t eat meat so what was with the Big Macs?

Watching my daughter leave the kitchen I realized it was time for me to have my version of that talk with her. Do I go Buddhist (my side of the family) or Christian (my husband’s) perhaps the modern twenty-first century full steam ahead approach? Upon reflection I didn’t know what direction I would take but I held a queasy confidence that it will be just right and reflect my closeness and relationship with my daughter. Of course can anyone parent get that close to a teenager? I am ashamed to say that in contemplation of the event a mischievous smile played across my lips, and the thought of the goods not consumed came back into my mind. I won’t go old school, I’ll go blunt and throw slang around like daggers. I’m looking forward to the pale look on my daughters face and the “Oh gross” remarks she will mutter. As I unsheathe my “Don’t even think about getting bizzy wit sumbody”! I will think of my own horror so many years ago and plunge the “I can’t believe she said that” dagger into my daughter simply because it’s payback time!

Knowing my daughter, she may well deprive me of the generational happy dance and think our conversation was cool and thank me for treating her as a responsible person. But I hope not, I hope to find our Kitchen Aid mixer or some equivalent in her room and quietly leave it undisturbed under the mattress as I complain about not being able to make a cake just as my mother did, and I hope my haiku conveys the responsibility of womanhood and burgeoning sexuality within a context she can embrace. If that fails I can always quote Spiderman’s Grandpa “With great power come great responsibility,” oh and I can’t forget the part about “I ain’t rais’n no babies either…”
Camile Ryerson is our new contributing writer. She'll post a weekly column on Wednesdays sharing her views on politics, world affairs, pop culture and of course, what she's reading. Her favorite genre is sci-fi.


tanita davis said...

Heee! Oh, Camile! My mother gave me a book. I think I would have died of your mother.

Good luck with that payback, sister!

Summer said...

great story. that must have been so mortifying. but at least your mom talked to you!

Camile Ryerson said...

Tanita, even now I blush a little when I think about it. The payback is coming this weekend. We are taking a mother daughter day, she's all hyped thinking were shopping.

Summer, I am grateful that my mother spoke with me, it did help me to navigate some currents back then.

Gavin said...

What a kind, brilliant conversation you shared with your mother, even if it didn't feel like it at the time. I'm sure you'll find just the right words for your daughter.