Monday, February 28, 2011

An Anniversary to Celebrate or Forget?

This is a photo of me with my mother in 1961--fifty years ago!--on the sidewalk outside her father's stop in Kerrisdale, in Vancouver, the scene of some of my happiest memories. Not long after this was taken our relationship became very difficult to say the least. Some years we had no relationship at all. Mom knows where all my buttons are and pushes them frequently yet I find it nearly impossible to say no to her. Regardless of the many challenges over the years, I still love and admire my mother. Most of my best qualities are learned or inherited from my mother. It is absurd to think I might please her yet my attempts continue. The last sixteen months have been the most rewarding and hellish of our entire relationship.

One year ago my sudden decision to leave home and return to care for my mother a day earlier than planned was most fortuitous. 
I changed my Facebook status to indicate that I was leaving immediately and unexpectedly then started packing. Seconds after I posted, my daughter phoned to ask what was the matter; she had seen my status change! She cancelled her plans for her only day off in two weeks. She stayed with my mother until I arrived, over six hours later. It is only a four hour drive but I packed very, very slowly; I really did not want to give up that extra day at home. My impulse to be a dutiful daughter must have been divine intervention.

The next day Mom and I were talking when I parked her in the wheelchair, next to the sofa. She was too exhausted to transfer and refused assistance. I turned, took three steps, picked up my knitting and sat to face her. In those three steps my mother lost consciousness due to dehydration. My daughter later thanked me for saving her grandmother's life. The thought had not occurred to me but she was right. Had I left as planned, I would have arrived to find her dead in her empty home. My sister and her three daughters live with Mom but they were all out for the entire day.

Mom spent the next few days in hospital; I stayed with her. Once she knew she would be able to return home my mother cursed me for saving her life. Repeatedly. She lacked the energy to enjoy this past year and suffers from debilitating pain. When we speak on the phone all I hear about is the year of suffering. She wonders how much more she can tolerate. It makes my heart ache to know that she has suffered so much and to know that she "blames" me for denying her the peace and freedom from pain she so covets.

It finally dawned on me that this anniversary recreated a pattern from my past; I suffered with back pain for two decades. Then I was reminded of a book that changed my back and my life. The Cliff Notes: Emotional tension causes physical tension. 

Mine always attacks my lumbar spine. Listening to my mother complain about her terrible life--and accepting responsibility for it--gave me a week of sciatica. Once I made the connection my back pain began to ease. The mind is so powerful. 

I have decided that my lesson is to focus on remaining positive after seeing the results of a person who has chosen a lifetime of focusing on the negative. My mind feels clear and my body moves (more or less) freely again.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Time to bring out a few goodies for Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival. I keep to a very few traditions such as the twin "fortune" characters and Lai See, monetary gifts given in red envelopes. Red is an important colour signifying good fortune and happiness.

There are special red envelopes for specific occasions such as birthdays and weddings but many are generic. One must enclose money in an even number, eight being especially lucky but never, ever f-o-u-r, which sounds like the Chinese word for d-e-a-t-h. One must also not speak not so nice words during Chinese New Year celebrations, scold children (and presumably, husbands). As a general rule, lai see are given to younger unmarried family members.

Candy is important to start the new year off with a sweet taste in one's mouth. This year I have not been able to shop in Chinatown for a better selection but these will do: hard candy in red wrappers, chewy mango gummies, and lovely ginger candies.

In my not-entirely-Chinese corner are one large and two small gold ingots representing good fortune and wealth. There is also a small gold Maneki Neko (lucky) cat with its right paw raised, beckoning rather than waving as it is interpreted according to Western customs. A raised left paw is commonly seen in shops where it attracts customers (money). Sometimes the paw is battery operated to move the paw back and forth. Other cats have two raised paws.

I also have several strings of decorative firecrackers. Some believe that as the culture was based in agriculture, the noise of the firecrackers woke the dragon which then flew across the sky bringing the spring rains. The other theory is that the noise scared away the evil spirits and ny misfortune, making a fresh start for the New Year.

In any case, the main tradition I enjoy is that the food--and plenty of it--be prepared in advance so there is no work done in the first part of the New Year. My understanding is that this allows time for celebration rather than work as well as avoidance of any mishaps in the kitchen, setting a poor tone for the remainder of the year. And no cutting with knives or scissors, no haircuts or manicures or pedicures either! Cutting symbolizes severing relationships.

We also try to not interrupt the meal--more symbolism. The food is simple and very--you guessed it--symbolic. As there are only two of us, I will make fewer dishes, but I will be cooking all day on New Year's Eve. Noodles and fish are a must. Noodles should be long and uncut and you mustn't cut or bite them; slurping is good! They represent long life so you wouldn't want to cut them short. The Chinese word for fish sounds like the word for "profit" but you must never consume all of the fish. This represents abundance for the new year, that you will have more than you need.

Each day of the (traditionally two-week) long celebration is devoted to specific activities, mostly related to visiting certain family members. Normaly everyone goes home for Chinese New Year; it is the reason for the largest migration on the planet! Sadly, I will not be with my family members but between the telephone and internet we can all be in touch.

Happy Year of the Rabbit!