Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

(Book 133) Oh, we are just reveling in our new-found freedom to get together in person for our discussions! I’m not sure who started it, (Melissa?) but ten of us clasped hands around the table last night at Linda’s lovely home. We missed Mary, but we were clearly excited about this simple pleasure and encouraged each other not to forget what a joy it is to be able to meet and eat together again.

Let’s start with the food! Linda made a delicious wrapped appetizer of figs, manchego cheese and prosciutto, and served a pea and mint purée with carrots (including the purple variety) and red pepper slices. The main course was baked salmon, crisped rainbow baby potatoes, and a salad of asparagus, mushrooms, radishes and shaved parmesan. Dessert was a strawberry and rhubarb crisp, which Sharon and I were mysteriously served less of than the other girls. It was all so delicious. As my daughter says: I ate my dinner like it was my job — a job I care about! Kudos to our hostess!

Reactions to the book were quite positive. Rosalie went so far as to say that it was maybe the best one we’ve read together. Many commented that it really made us think about our own mothers and the extent to which we felt that we knew her as someone other than the role she filled as our Mom. Linda said she almost wished there hadn’t been a chapter narrated by the mother, and I agreed because it took us into the realm of magical realism. Chris offered a theory about use of second person for the daughter and the husband, because they had something to be guilty for, while the oldest son’s narration was in third person because he wasn’t blaming himself. Geri had a theory to explain Mom’s favoritism of the younger daughter which included consummation of her friendship with the young man who had stolen her bowl of food. I thought that her relationship with the young man was one of emotional support during tough times, but I would have to reread to really rule out that possibility. (I gave Geri a hard time anyway.) We talked about the four separate references to cows in comparison to the mother’s eyes and her energy at the moment of her birth. Karen googled and found that the cow is considered a noble animal in Korea. I didn’t take notes last night as I have been able to during the zooms and I enjoyed a second glass of wine, so I will encourage other members to add to their memories of this discussion.

Prior to discussing the book, each of us offered a story of motherhood whether it applied to our Mom or our own role as a mother. I’m not going to be able to remember exactly as we go around the table because (please see aforementioned second glass of wine) so I’m going to note things that were said without names of who said them and hope I manage to represent everyone. This book about motherhood made us think of:

How in some cases, our mother helped us to know what we didn’t want to be when we became mothers;

How even if mother generally fell short of any mothering skills, her focus on a particular aspect of life moved you forward in an important way;

How hard our own mother’s life was and how difficult that was to see as a child; though it doesn’t excuse everything, it makes us a sad to recognize that was her starting point;

How no two children in a family have the same mother; that mothers often have a different relationship with each child;

How some mothers weren’t all that forthcoming about the non-mother portion of their lives, making it difficult to know them as anything but Mom;

How peak moments in motherhood may come from some simple moment when your child acknowledges “my Mom taught me” or you’ve prepared them well enough to be ready tax season;

How some mothers did their best to advise on the act that would eventually cause you to become a mother by saying it “was OK to move” or by suggesting it was better “not to get in the habit because you’ll always want more and never want less;”

How some mothers had the skills to impart social and cultural skills and others just supported you while you learned on your own;

How some mothers know what to say to make it the boy’s fault when you’ve been spurned, or give you a Get Out of Jail Free card when you worry too much about not being good enough;

How meals get better when your brothers are around;

How some of Mom’s curious behavior when you were a kid, can now be seen as a plea to have some time to herself between work and motherhood;

And how some Moms can be remembered as saints, even when her best dish is hobo macaroni and she once fixed the hem of your skirt by stapling it and saying “A man on a galloping horse will never notice it” thereby solving a problem and giving you a language base rich in idiom at the same time!

It was a really great night thanks to all of you and your mothers! Please forgive me for all that I forgot to mention.

Our next meeting will be at Melissa’s on Wednesday, June 23 to discuss Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.