What you can give your parents
by Kathleen Choe (actor/singer/writer)
It’s Saturday morning. Early. 8:58am to be precise.
My parents are sleeping.
I’m visiting my folks for the weekend. True to form, when I arrived last night, there was a feast waiting for me on the kitchen table. More specifically, this:
My father—now semi-retired—is now mainly in charge of cooking at the house, much to my mother’s delight (and envy of her friends).
It’s now 8:58am the day after said dinner, and I’m on my way to dance class to burn it off (thank you, Classpass). And they’re having a post-breakfast nap in the den.
8:58am on Saturday morning, and my parents are sleeping.
After years of enforced early Saturday morning activities--music school, Korean school, a million other activities I’ve forgotten--the teenager in me gloats at the chance to rub the need for a post-breakfast nap in their faces.
I snicker, and briefly consider waking them up with a loud “Guys, are you kidding? You need a nap already?”
And then I stop myself.
I think of them waking up at 7am on Saturday mornings to open up the office while I was growing up. I think of them working 6 days a week, 12-14 hours a day. Nights of the phone ringing at 10pm and my Dad leaving because he was on call at the hospital. My mom running a house, running an office, raising me and my two siblings, shuffling us around to various activities…and there were a lot.
I think of all that and I stop, and I watch them napping. My mom on the couch, my dad in his favorite armchair.
And I start to cry.
Because I wish I was in a position where I could take care of them. Send them off on a trip. Vienna maybe, so they can see the Philharmonic and eat linzertorte and speak German, which they claim to have forgotten but I know they still remember.
I wish I was in a position where I could take them out to eat when I come home, and for once, grab the check from them and sit on it so they can’t pay (my mother’s favorite trick).
My Dad says he hates traveling and my mom says she hates the hustle and bustle of going from place to place. My dad likes to cook at home, and the last time I bought my mom a spa treatment she yelled at me for spending money.
But I’d like to do it anyway. Take care of them. Given my oh-so-stable career, I’m not in the position to.
To be clear, they were not perfect, but they did their best. That’s all parents can really do. Not be perfect, just do their best. I’m older and I know that now.
There was a time I was living with them, doing a show and working my day job at the same time. One morning after finishing my bowl of oatmeal, I was so tired that I put my head down on the table and shut my eyes for what I thought was a minute. I woke up when my mom came tell me it was time to go to the train station and screamed to find me passed out (sorry, Ma).
She told me to stay home that day. I went to my day job and did the show. They gave me that too, that work ethic. When you’re tired and discouraged and would rather gouge your right eyeball out than do what must be done, but you do it anyway.
I’m here in doing this crazy acting career and I’m sticking it out. I keep going even on the days where I would rather pull the covers over my head. I remind myself that I’ve gotten far, and I keep getting farther every year.
Just not enough to take care of them.
I’m crying now at 8:58am on a Saturday morning watching them sleep because this is all I can give them right now. This moment of quiet. That, and to keep going, and hope that one day I’ll make them really, really proud.
They say that it’s enough that I come home.
I choose to believe that today.
It’s 9am on Saturday morning. My parents are sleeping.