Lessons from My Mama, Pt. 2

Standard

People above rules.

When I was a child I would occasionally ride the bus in D.C. with my mother. She would always try to sit as close to the driver as possible. As I nervously eyed the big sign that clearly told passengers not to talk to the driver while the bus was moving, my mother would launch her irresistible charm offensive. In no time at all, stone-faced, surly drivers would fall under her sway. They would be laughing and sharing personal anecdotes like a couple of long lost BFFs. By the end of every ride, I swear the drivers would be ready to give up a kidney for her.

Her disregard, and indeed disdain for rules that hinder human interaction was never so clear as when she came to visit me when my son Nicholas was a baby. He was going through a phase when he would torture me by never ever sleeping more than an hour at a time. I was thoroughly exhausted and was trying to rectify the situation by “Ferberizing” him. The “Ferber Method” is a technique developed by Dr. Richard Ferber to train an infant to learn how to self-soothe and put himself back to sleep. Basically, it involves a training period during which you let your baby cry for longer and longer periods of time. Ultimately, the method is supposed to result in a baby, who doesn’t cry and who sleeps soundly through the night. When my mother came to visit me and realized that I wasn’t leaping to rush to my baby’s side when he cried, she was outraged. She snorted when I tried to explain the rationale. Whenever Nicholas so much as peeped, she would pick him up and hand him to me and demand that I whip it out to nurse him. As I did her bidding, she would stand there watching me with her arms crossed, shaking her head and muttering under her breath in a seamless blend of Korean and the Universal Language of Disgust the whole time, “Ay-goh!…’Ferber’ joah ha neh!…Tchuh!”

My mother has always been guided only by her own rule: to love and care for people with extravagant generosity. She is as warm and effervescent to gas station attendants as she is to her own children and grandchildren. At the same time, the truth of the matter is that she is a formidable, if benevolent force of nature, who always gets her way. The miracle of it all is that she manages to completely subjugate people with a weirdly hypnotic and bewitching despotism, which  inspires only devotion and gratitude for her attentions.

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