I'm happy we have a day to recognize the women who always put family first
I was grinning ear to ear. Mrs Kellet, my all-time favorite teacher, had let me ride shotgun. Miss Roach, my second-grade and least favorite teacher rode in the back. She took out a Virginia Slims menthol cigarette, lit it up and proceeded to fill the Oldsmobile Cutlass with plumes of choking vapor. I started to gag on the combination of new car smell and tobacco smoke, but luckily we turned into my driveway just before I was about to heave.
My mother greeted everyone and led them to our dining room. She had laid out the table with white poached chicken, stir-fried vegetables and the much-anticipated bowls of huntun noodles. Being the 1970s and the suburbs, this was considered exotic. My teachers always looked forward to my mother's lunch invitations and it reflected in my grades. All along I thought it was me but now I know who the smart cookie really is.
Mothers are for the first two or three decades of our lives taken for granted. Sure, we send flowers, cards, take them out for really expensive hotel buffets once a year, but we truly don't understand the value of their commitment until that first week when we cradle our own babies in our arms. It's only then we realize the extent of what the word "sacrifice" means.
My mother Josephine is an immigrant. She speaks with an accent and occasionally mixes up her sentence syntax - "Lawn the mow! Lawn the mow!" Back in the 1970s she was light years ahead. Around that time, when Canada forged good relations with China, she took advantage and started an import-export business.
Without established links in the Canadian business world and few contacts in China, she took on whatever came her way. This led to trade in varied and less than synergetic items like strawberry plants, fertilized turkey eggs, Moutai, Harlequin romance novels and books on Canadian law. She even set up a joint venture factory in Toronto manufacturing canned pork belly. Luckily this was before the health food "craze" and eating jellied slabs of sweetened pork fat was still considered good for you.
Although none of the products took off particularly well, through it all Josephine made solid connections with influential people in China, and with her Canadian and Chinese partners entered into an agreement to build Jinglun Hotel, the first business-class hotel in Beijing. Opened in 1984 on the sprawling Jianguomenwai Dajie, my mother didn't take a break as she was busy finishing her next project, a far larger and grander complex a few kilometers down the road: the Sci-Tech Center. It was only the second joint-venture office tower to be opened in Beijing, allowing hundreds of Fortune 500 companies like AT&T, United Airlines, Thai Airlines, Bayer and more to move out of their cramped hotel rooms and into proper offices.
While other mothers were making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for their kids' lunchboxes, mine was overseas fighting with bull-headed contractors and reluctant bankers to get the building completed on schedule and within budget. Meanwhile, I was being teased in the school cafeteria for bringing white poached chicken legs instead of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
I admit I had days when I was angry at my absentee mother and immaturely made her pay for it with guilt-fueled bursts of monetary blackmail - "I want a double order of the No 5 special and supersize it." However, as a grown woman and mother myself now, I can see the sacrifices she made for my family and me. She chose to remain on a path where family, not career, took precedence.
If she were a man, even a father, would her worldly achievements have been greater? Probably, which makes me even more thankful she is my mother, and it's only appropriate we have a day that honors her. Happy Mother's Day, mom.