Whether your mother was June Cleaver or Joan Crawford, the thought of turning into your mother can be fraught with angst and anxiety. And nothing brings out this "inner mom" like becoming a mother yourself. I'm told that one day you can hear your mom echoed in your own voice while screaming bloody murder at the kids. Or maybe you catch a glimpse of her lurking in a mirror one terrifying day. Either way, the moment is truly unsettling and disquieting. As for me, I realized I was turning into my mother while eating at Hometown Buffet.
For those of you who haven't had the privilege of meeting my mother, she's an enigma wrapped in a puzzle and deeply entrenched in a mystery. I love her but don't understand her. We stand across a great cultural divide that I don't think I'll ever be able to hurdle. I've long since made my uneasy truce with her and learned to laugh at the things that used to make me insane. She's a tiny Korean lady who is legendary for two things: Her ability to insult anybody in ten words or less and to eat her own scant body weight of 85 lbs a day in food without gaining nanogram.
In fact her boundless appetite and scathing bon mots have
achieved a folklore status among family and friends, and I could
dine out for years on stories about my mother. When I was sixteen
years old, a neighborhood boy I had a crush on came to visit me.
My mom answered the door and announced his presence this way,
"Minsun, a very ugly boy is here to see you!" Needless to say, I
was mortified. When my cousin came to visit she proudly showed
off pictures of her three daughters and my mom took one glance
and announced, "That one's ugly, that one's overweight and that
one's okay." My husband was there at the time and he thought that
was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. The look on my cousin's
face was priceless. Of course it's easy to laugh about it when
you're not on the receiving end of her barbs. Welcome to my
And no, she's not suffering from Tourette's Syndrome. She's just a typical Korean. For those of you who haven't met Koreans fresh off the boat, I'll give you a quick cultural lesson. Koreans have no qualms about letting you know exactly what they think about you. Brutal honesty is a cultural trait and don't ask me how it originated. But I suspect that insulting your family and friends was a popular pastime in developing countries before the advent of television. Whatever the reason, Koreans have honed this talent and my mother is a tenth degree master. And having achieved master status, she can't be bothered with the niceties of being polite or civil. These social skills are a mere waste of time when there are so many people to insult and so little time.
But ever since I became pregnant, I think that the student is about to become the master. I pray to God it's hormonal and temporary but I think that I'm becoming as mean as my mother. I am too ashamed to admit some of the evil things I've said under the influence of progesterone. In fact, quite a few people have commented on the sinister, misanthropic aura that has descended on my soul. And the only thing that soothes the savage beast is food, and lots of it -- just like my mother (shudder).
In a culture where "How are you?" is literally translated into "Have you eaten?", my mother is hardly atypical in her passion for gastronomy. When she first came to America, I'm positive that her first English phrase was, "All-you-can-eat buffet." Like many other Asian immigrants, she is fascinated by American excess, and nowhere else is this more fully embodied than in the buffet. When a Hometown Buffet opened in our neighborhood, it was Christmas, Hanukah and Buddha's Birthday all wrapped up into one glorious holiday for my mother.
For the uninitiated, Hometown Buffet is the seventh Circle of Culinary Hell. It's where White Trash food goes to die under glaring heat lamps and smudged sneeze guards. My mom can't get enough of it and drags me there every chance she gets. I had Sunday brunch at Hometown Buffet and I sulked all the way there. But once I walked through the doors, something inside me stirred. This time was different, this time I was pregnant and ravenous. I shoved my mom aside so I could heap my plate with fried chicken wings, candied yams, mashed potatoes, and cherry Jell-O. Not to be muscled out, my mom squeezed beside me. Like two pigs at a feeding trough, we jockeyed for best position.
Many plates later, we were done feeding and as I glanced at my
reflection in the mirror I was slightly out of breath and
sweating. Then it suddenly hit me like a lightning bolt, I had
eaten Hometown Buffet and liked it! Dear God, I am turning into
my mother! It's true, lately the only time I ever open my mouth
is to eat or be insulting. My heart pounded and my mind raced.
What's happening? What does this mean? What should I do? I
agonized, deliberated and wrestled with myself. Finally, I came
to a decision. I stood up and announced that I was going to get
more ice cream.