Essay: How to be Your Mother’s Best Daughter by Yasmina Din Madden

1. Be humble, don’t ask for too much, and don’t ask questions.

2. Wear the French blouses with cap sleeves edged in lace when all the other girls dress in mini-skirts and paint-spattered sweatshirts slung from their shoulders.

3. Nod your head, but remain silent when she curses your father, your sisters, on the very rare occasion your brother…

4. Later, remain silent when she curses you.

5. Don’t ask her what she means when she says you or your siblings ‘don’t have enough Asian.’

6. Study yourself in the mirror, though you suspect that what you look like has nothing to do with the Asian-ness your mother is after.

7. When she calls you during college, just say yes when she asks if you’re being moral. If you must, let the phone dangle from its cord and go into the hallway to talk with your friends. She will still be talking when you return.

8. Try to understand that she means well.

9. Don’t have the third glass of wine at dinner with her, even if you really want it.

10. Visit her at least three times a year and when you do, fetch the green onions from the crisper, the rice from the pantry, slice the pork belly, chop the onions, dice the peppers, stir the soup.

11. Request the recipe.

12. Watch her curl her hand into a loose fist and bat it against her legs when she gets nervous.

13. Remember watching your grandmother, her mother, do the exact same thing while pacing the confines of a small one-room apartment on the outskirts of Paris.

14. Tell your husband not to be alarmed when, after your wedding vows conclude, your mother hugs him tight and whispers in his ear, “I ask only one thing: Never get divorced.”

15. Do not, under any circumstances, get divorced.

16. If you decide to have children, don’t be offended when she says she needs only three things from you:

a. That the child be given a normal name (your father’s*)
b. That the child is baptized.
c. And, finally, that the child is circumcised.*
*If it’s a girl, replace your father’s name with your grandmother’s and subtract circumcision.

17. Nod your head, but remain silent, when she tells you not to compliment your child too much.

18. Continue to compliment your child, but more quietly.

19. Remember that your mother waited in America, at the tail end of a war between her new home and the country of her childhood, wondering what would become of her own mother, who walked through jungles and crossed oceans to survive.

20. Watch her eyes fill with tears when she knows you or one of your siblings is in pain. Watch her lips press together, open, press together again.

21. Let her fill your plate, fill it again, and yet one more time, even if you are full.

22. Believe her when she tells you food is love.

a. Remember that it takes hours and hours to make Chả giò, and that she makes it, your favorite, without the help of her own sisters who live thousands of miles away on another continent.
b. Agree that this is the kind of food that calls for the hands of many to prepare it.

23. Listen, listen, listen as she laments over the various ways in which she’s suffered.

24. Keep listening.

Yasmina Din Madden lives in Iowa and her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Idaho Review, Necessary Fiction, Carve, PANK, Word Riot, The Masters Review: New Voices, Hobart, Fiction Southeast, and other journals. Her story “Rococo” was a finalist for The Iowa Review Award, 2019, and her flash fiction has been shortlisted for the Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions and Pulp Lit’s Hummingbird Flash Prize.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s