A Good Life

I found a sweet potato in our garden!

My mother is seventy four years old. The beginning of this probably sounds similar to the last post I wrote about my father, but I start this way because the two of them aren’t just the same age; they went to the same elementary school together and were even in the same class. Since their experiences growing up were so similar - same town, same school, same year, same classmates - many of my memories growing up were filled with weekends where my parents would invite all their shared friends over for dinner parties. Before these dinners, I would find myself in the kitchen helping my mother, who was swamped by the meal preparation. But it wasn’t just the weekends. On weekdays, my mother was also busy in the evenings because our factory workers would often end their day by stopping by our home for drinks and snacks; it was an important ritual for our family and our small business’ sense of community. And on our days off, she would prepare bento-boxes and picnics that our family could bring on our small adventures. We often avoided tourist spots and weekend getaways and instead chose places embedded in nature: hidden river-banks, digging for clams by the sea side, foraging in the nearby mountains, hiking.

Upon arriving home from these expeditions, it was my father’s job to take some of what we had hunted for that day - fish we had caught, clams we had collected, bamboo we had picked - to our neighbors and friends. Meanwhile, my mother and I would clean the dishes and pack away leftovers in the kitchen, always chatting to each other about how “we’d managed to have such a fruitful, exciting day without spending money on theme park tickets or fancy hotel stays.” I think my mother knew how much I enjoyed those “other” very rare days where she would take me out to the theme park, or buy me fancy clothes, but she also worked hard to teach me that joy doesn’t come from spending money, or even doing particular things, but from spending time with family and finding fulfillment in whatever you choose to do: that every experience is really what you make of it. My mother always lived this way. No matter how much work piled up and how busy she became, she always found excitement and joy and love in what she needed to do; she always told me, “don’t tell yourself to do it because you need to, but because you want to, no matter what it is.” Even my young and still immature self could understand and admire her ethic.

Our family camping trip

I don’t think my mother, even now in her old age, thinks seriously about her philosophy; she never really spoke about it or analyzed it, she just did it. But I saw it, and I still do, and I know what it feels like to live it. It’s a way of living and working that I always strive for, and even now, in America, trying to do for my children what she did for me, I often wish I could go back and pay the debt of what she taught me back to her not through words but through my actions.

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about how the way we grow up impacts the way we raise kids. And having my two kids home during this pandemic, I’ve also been curious about what they’ve taken up from me, what they think about when they want to build their own families. My only job now is to live by example, to show them that even in such a difficult time, I choose a good life and a fulfilled life.