HARLEM — For those of you planning on becoming a regular reader of this blog, I figured it would be good to get this out of the way now. I talk about my mom a lot. Among my friends, my mom is in fact a favorite topic of discussion, because of the things she says, because of the way she says them, and because of the way I recount the way she says them.
In time, I will share those stories with you. There are plenty.
But first, to fully appreciate my mom and all her quirks, it’s important to provide a little bit of background.
I wrote the following a few years ago as part of an internship application. They wanted to understand why I wanted to get into journalism. But they also wanted a sense of the people who have influenced my life. Here goes:
If you stood on the bathtub and craned your neck at the proper angle, you could see the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge through the bathroom window – provided the fog or refinery smokestacks didn’t block the view too much.
Back then, we lived on a hill overlooking a bay. Our three-bedroom house – one of the first generations of the phenomenon now known as tract housing – blended in easily with the rest of the modest, neat homes on the block. You could walk the streets of our neighborhood without too many worries but you didn’t leave your bike unguarded in the front yard either.
That’s where my two sisters, my brother and I grew up under the dictatorship created by our mother.
Dad’s general idea of parenting involved bribery in the form of candy bars and trips to the ice cream man. He drove a soda truck 10 hours a day starting at 4 a.m. So once he got home, the “that oughta shut ’em up” approach seemed most practical. We never minded.
Mom, however, took an old-school Filipino philosophy toward child rearing, which meant that you ran like hell when she went looking for her belt. I hated it then even though I can’t blame her for it now.
Under Mom’s dictatorship, there were exactly two offenses guaranteed to bring swift punishment: dishonesty and selfishness.
Once, I tested Mom’s commitment to prosecuting these atrocities.
My sister and I shared a tricycle and one day, she decided to take a ride in the backyard. I grew bored of watching her and decided it was my turn. So I pushed her off the tricycle and she cried. I ignored her and rode off.
Earlier that day, I noticed my mom working in her garden. For reasons I still can’t explain, I drove the tricycle all over her tomato plants. Mom threw a fit. I lied and told her that Lyn did it. Lyn blamed me.
She knew I was lying, so Mom went looking for her belt, then me. I ran like hell. She found me in her room, buried under a shield of blankets and pillows. She unearthed me from my hole before dispensing justice.
To this day, I share Mom’s disdain for dishonesty and selfishness.
Years later, my English teacher told me to give his journalism class a try. He said that I had an above-average ability to write and that my knowledge of sports might help the school paper which needed a few sportswriters. It tried it, fell in love with it and decided that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Mr. Brown thought I could become good at journalism and pushed me to write even more. Each school day for four years, a folded copy of that morning’s San Francisco Chronicle’s Sporting Green waited for me at my desk. Mr. Brown circled that day’s best writing, circling lines and words that he thought I needed to read. Learning from those great writers inspired me to take journalism seriously.
Mom, however, thought that I should to stick to engineering. Those people make more money, she said. Besides, she wanted some sort of return for buying me all those Lego sets when I was a kid. We fought about it for weeks.
“Don’t end up like me and your dad!”
“Money isn’t everything, Mom. This makes me happy.”
By then, I was too old to take a belting and she wasn’t going to change my mind.
For the first time in my life, I defied her and stayed with journalism.
Ironically, the lessons she taught me when we lived in the house on the hill made me suited to become a great journalist.
Mom’s still coming to terms about my decision. She hasn’t tried to sway me back into engineering in years. Sometimes, she even calls me at school and asks how things are going with my classes and the internship hunt.
Maybe she’s not crazy about my choice of career, but I figure begrudging acceptance is a cozy compromise.
Of course, I really never knew where she stood on my decision until about a year ago. I made a surprise visit home and found Mom having coffee with a few of her friends from work. She jumped off the couch and gave me a big hug before heading to the kitchen to fix me something to eat.
“So, how was Boston? It was the Globe, right? I heard you covered the Red Sox? That must’ve been exciting!” Mom’s friend said.
“Yeah, I had a great time. But how did you know the Boston thing?”
“Your Mom talks about you at work all the time. Sometimes, she brings your stories in and makes us read them. She’s really proud of you, you know.”