There were many, many tear-soaked nights as an early teen when, shortly after getting in trouble for doing something undeniably stupid, I’d think to myself, “Why won’t she just be nicer to me? If she talked to me more, like a friend, I’d tell her everything! We could get along so well!”
Some of my friends’ parents seemed pretty damn cool at the time: Some would buy booze for us or let us party in their homes with reckless abandon. Some would cuss as they told us wild stories. Others would smoke cigarettes or pot with their teen kids. I have hazy memories of one mom applying roll-on glitter in a crowded bathroom at one raucous New Year’s Eve party her daughter held in their home. (That was a little odd, I remember thinking even back then, but at least she was cool enough to have us there.)
I often felt my parents were too strict, with my mother being the stricter of the two. I thought that if only she were more easygoing, I’d be able to open up about everything.
But no. Mama Woo was in many ways a “tiger mom” — a fearsome woman who only grew stricter when I started getting into trouble. She never once laid a hand on me, but the utter fear she was able to strike into my heart — the way her eyes would go wide, warning me she was seconds away from going ballistic — was absolutely unmatched.
To be honest, I still got into a whole lot of trouble as a teen. But there were many, many more things I would have done if she hadn’t clamped down. She made it known it was never acceptable for a young kid to be drinking or doing drugs, let alone in the middle of the night surrounded by suspect company. As a result, there were many nights when my friends would call or page — yes, I had a pager — from some ridiculously fun sounding party, telling me about the mischief they were getting into, and I’d have to tell them I simply couldn’t go.
An adult now (or something close to it, anyway), I couldn’t be more grateful she did exactly what she did. I like to think I’m a pretty well-adjusted, decently successful woman with my head on straight now, and I’m not certain I would be if she and my father had simply let me go out and do whatever as a kid. (Respectfully, I can also say the kids of those aforementioned “cool parents” aren’t exactly excelling in life now, either.) I get it now. And cannot thank her enough.
A few random memories I have of my mother:
She made vegetables (kind of) fun by teaching me how to “plant” broccoli into my mash of creamed corn and rice, making it look like a little garden.
After wearing my requisite “sleeper” hoop earrings for several weeks after getting my ears pierced as a kid, I convinced my dad to buy me small, silver, dangly cowboy hat earrings as my first “real” pair of earrings. I showed my mom, who, stonefaced, said they looked like hooker earrings.
When I was maybe six or seven, I vaguely remember going down the stairs with a glass of milk in one hand and a giant stuffed polar bear under the other arm. I fell, splashing milk everywhere. I erupted in tears and called my mom at work, sobbing hysterically and demanding to know how such a tragedy could happen to me. She calmly — and I think fighting laughter — walked me through the process of cleaning it up.
After one particularly messy house party I hosted as a teen, my mother — fuming — was wiping down a big table with a glass pane when it somehow came loose and shattered. Not technically my fault, but my heart stopped for several seconds as I was convinced she would breathe fire on to me, incinerating me instantly.
We never did have the “birds and the bees” talk. But I do remember her warning me about my impending period, and reiterating several times that I shouldn’t worry — I’m NOT going to die.
She remains uber-mommish to this day. Almost every time we speak on the phone, for instance, she will remind me not to wear dark clothes when walking around at night, lest I get hit by a car. And, make sure I don’t work out too hard or eat too little, because I might pass out. “And take your iron pills!”