Breakfast of Chumpions
One winter morning in 1988, I ran out the door on my way to school. I was late, per usual, so I skipped breakfast. High school seniors are too cool for breakfast anyway.
My mother wasn’t having it. She chased me out to my car in her pajamas, and pressed a half-eaten SKOR bar and Coke into my hand.
“Must eat something!” she insisted.
A Coke and a candy bar? Incredulous, I laughed in her face and half-jokingly threatened to report her to the authorities. As I peeled away, I tossed a glance back into my rearview mirror. Mom was still standing in the driveway, rejected offerings hanging limp and forlorn in her hands.
Love served, not spoken
Growing up, my immigrant parents owned the quintessential mom and pop sandwich shop: 16-hour days on their feet, cranking out sandwiches for smiley, white-collar corporate stiffs. Platters were always served with a side of forced, cheery banter in halting English (“Hab a Good One!'”) Because, “Customer service! Americans like customer service…”
Sandwiches, salads and restocking. Seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. To parallel process the daily preparation of three meals a day for their own family was hard. Brutally hard.
My mother was raised in a culture where you didn’t say “I love you.” You cooked it. The stigma of a drive-thru meal was tantamount to a Walk of Shame: an admission of guilt and abject failure for a Korean mother. It meant she’d abdicated her maternal rights and responsibilities. She’d consented to having her own flesh and blood fed (read: loved) at the hands of a complete stranger. Who knew what ungodly and untreatable pathogens might have been transmitted?!
Back in the day, they didn’t have frozen waffles, chicken nuggets or ready-made entrees from Costco. But somehow, we ate. We lived. We grew. Somehow, she made it work.
To this day, I rarely eat sandwiches or salads.
Mommypocrisy: Activating the Mommy-Guilt Gland
As an immature 17-year-old, I had no understanding. But now that I’m a harried working mom myself, I get it.
Now, I’m the one tearing through the house at 7:58 am, frantically in search of a misplaced permission slip or library book.
Now, I’m the one clipping curbs in my minivan, hastily shuttling kids (late!!) to therapy or appointments.
Now, I’m the one screaming through homework and chores, trying to juggle meals, marriage, ministry and work – all while slave to the ding of our digital devices (neck veins near poppin’ over here, from straining too hard to sound professional.)
Experts say dinner is the most important time for over-scheduled modern families to check in and connect with each other. “3-5 servings of leafy greens per day, preferably organic and locally grown”?
Oh, SHUT UP.
My gawd, are you kidding me? I may or may not have, at one time (quite possibly even more than once) gone through the drive-thru for my kid’s lunch, only to repack it at red lights into a “legit” lunch box on the drive to school, just so he wouldn’t be shamed and traumatized by his classmates (or school staff) because his lazy, schleppy, schlocky, sloppy mom couldn’t get it together to pack him a Real Lunch.
I may or may not have, on rare occasions, threatened the children for 30 minutes to finish their (frozen) broccoli, sent them to bed without dessert, then self-medicated by eating through a pint of rocky road, a slice of key lime pie, and a fistful of flaming hot Cheetos for my dinner.
I may or may not have. Look, I am just saying…
Maternal devotion blended with fatigue, guilt, obligation and desperation make for a powerful, intoxicating cocktail.
It can make a Coke and candy bar enticing: A perfectly viable meal option.
Soul food is best served bittersweet
Twenty years later, my mom and I still laugh about The Candy Bar Incident. It’s become Dokko family lore, rehashed every Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Twenty years later, she’s still wracked with guilt and shame over it. Only now, I get it. Which is why we’re able to laugh about it.
So, Mom? THANK YOU for that heroic breakfast back in 1988. It was all you could muster at the time. I get that now, and I love you for it. That “meal” eventually fed my soul and understanding — if not my stomach. Sometimes, food that nourishes the soul is best served bittersweet. I thank you for that, and for so much more.
Oh, and Mom? I’m so sorry for laughing.
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