In the real world, perfection is subjective. We could easily think of a perfect car, but that exact car wouldn’t be perfect to the eyes and heart of another standing across the street.
It took nine years for what I thought would never happen again – ever.
Nine years ago, it struck me like lightning. The call that changed my life, but what also shaped who I am today. My mother, at the young age of 50, succumbed to a stroke that left her speechless, dependent, and with the inability to mobilize her dominant hand. I was 19 and barely knew the repercussions of my mother’s condition, but next thing I knew I was standing in the kitchen with the tools in my hand, tears running down my face, and without the slightest idea of how to cook.
She was hospitalized for nearly three months before she was able to come back home. It was a difficult time for the family. It was even more difficult whenever I’d come home and just felt the emptiness take over.
What struck me most and made my heart heavy was the absence of the smell of my mother’s cooking in the house. The mornings became an everyday reminder that she wasn’t home.
As I stood in the kitchen faced with the idea of having to cook, I relied on all the times that I helped my mother cook in the kitchen. Growing up, I’d enjoy watching her cook and although I never did take the initiative to pick up the tools myself, I didn’t realize that my mind had somehow subconsciously remembered the smallest details of her ways of cooking.
As the years went by, I’d experiment and learn new dishes that made even my parents surprised and enjoy. The years of cooking were made bearable because everyday my parents gave me strength to continue when I’d simply see them enjoying my home-cooked dishes. It’s really all I needed.
The idea that I made something from scratch for my parents was in itself a self-accomplishment that made me want to pursue more. They gave me the strength to continue as they finished their bowls and asked for more.
Nine years later with a demanding full-time job and other commitments, I was faced with having to leave my parents with frozen prepped meals that I would make every now and then as an emergency meal for when I wouldn’t be able to make it home for dinner. My travels to Europe and Asia over the past two years also meant that I had to make pre-portioned meals to freeze for the time that I’d be out of town also.
Although this is the stuff that made it difficult for me for having to leave my parents to fend for themselves, this is the exact stuff that also made miracles happen in our very home.
This is the stuff that gave her the push.
One busy night, I came home after work to find a fully home-cooked Korean meal all set on the table for me – rice, soup, and a variety of side dishes that weren’t mine. I sat down and took two minutes to carefully look at every plate on that table and asked my mother where it all came from.
A comforting smile from her was all I needed to know the answer.
As she walked away to let me eat dinner, I took a minute to let the moment sink. I drew up a spoonful of the beef radish soup she had somehow managed to make on her own. The moment the taste set in, my tastebuds reacted to something quite familiar.
My mom had just hit her homerun.
It was a bittersweet moment – the taste that meant so much than just the meal that was in front of me. It was a taste that took me nine years back when mom made this very meal. It was a taste that defied my thoughts about never being able to eat a homecooked meal by my mom again. It was an indescribable taste that almost had me tear up because I sincerely never thought I would taste this again.
From that moment on, I handed the tools back to her. She took the initiative to make something new everyday while she stayed home. From the good ol’ soups to new exciting side dishes, she kept exploring her capabilities and range of dishes. I’d enjoy the familiar food and try new ones with her. Every step was like hitting a milestone with her.
Although I was a longtime cook in the home, I had put down the cooking tools and gave it a rest for quite some time – a few months, that is. My mother became the primary cook and the owner of our kitchen, yet again. She had regained her independence in the kitchen and it is always exciting to see what she cooks up for us next.
One busy morning, I was hustling and bustling to get ready for work when my mother had placed a nicely packed bento box in the kitchen – assembled with a bottle of Yop, fruit cup, and an apple juice. I froze for a moment and was left speechless. My mother handed it to me with a smile and waved goodbye as I left.
At work on break, it was a bittersweet moment when I slowly opened the bento box she had carefully made for me early in the morning. It included rice and some korean side dishes – one of them being spicy cucumbers. My first thought was, “How did she manage to dice up the cucumber?”. It was a question I stopped asking myself with everything else she would make because I realized that she finds her own unique ways to get the job done, but they turn out … unique to her own style. It was like my mother’s new trademark. I teared up at the sight of the different-sized cucumber dices. Every single piece had a different width and that, to me, was perfection.
My mother is my best friend. When I almost lost her, I felt the world crumble underneath me. And from that moment on, I never took her for granted. I hug her almost everyday and I always take a moment to appreciate the fact that she is here. Her smallest accomplishment are also her greatest moments and we always celebrate them together.
In the past nine years that I had cooked for her, I learned a many great deal of things from her, and also simply from taking up a lot of responsibilities in the home. I do not ever regret any of those moments, as it shaped who I am today. I learned about gratitude – the right things to be thankful for. I learned how to be grateful for a homecooked meal placed right in front of you or a simple bento box packed for work. I learned how much work goes into cooking a meal for the family and how meaningful it is when people truthfully enjoy the food that you carefully make. I learned that cooking for others always felt more rewarding.
I am thankful for having you every single day of my life.
Happy Thanksgiving, Mum. xo