CRACKING WISHBONES WITH MY MOTHER
I spent a lot of my childhood eating Costco rotisserie chickens. It was the perfect thing for a busy family with two working parents and three little girls - served with rice, shredded and added to pancit, or on its own as a snack. I have so many memories of myself as a child, wrapping a Costco drumstick in a paper towel and eating it straight off the bone, quickly, so I could get back to playing some game of pretend that felt desperately important.
Sometimes, my mom would pull a wishbone out of the inside of the chicken, offer me a side, and tell me to make a wish. I’d squeeze my eyes shut and think of whatever I wanted most at the time - to be a drummer in a rock band, to be a princess, to have a superpower like teleportation or never needing to sleep. Then, we’d count down and pull.
As you probably already know, the winner of this game is whoever pulls a larger part of the wishbone. If you win, your wish comes true. Sometimes, when I won, my mom would tell me what she had wished for and it was almost always the same thing: to win the lottery. Along with her wishes, she also bought lottery tickets fairly regularly - she still does, in fact.
My mom is a hard worker; a nurse who spends every work day caring for premature babies. She loves it so much that she hasn’t wanted to retire yet, despite having the means to. Can you imagine? Getting so much enjoyment out of working that you’d rather do that than just...relax? Do nothing? Eat your favorite foods and sleep when your body tells you to? But I digress.
Like many immigrant parents do, my mom worked hard so that my sisters and I could live an easier life than she did. Also like many immigrant parents do, she implored me to become a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer - something practical. It was always about practicality, and choosing a path of guaranteed success.
It’s hard to try and “make it” as a creative; most of your career choices have an element of risk to them. I understand my parents’ hesitation now more than ever, but my creative aspirations were always a point of contention between us.
My parents had done so much to give my sisters and I security and financial stability. How could I risk losing that just to follow a dream? Why couldn’t I be pragmatic about this, like they always were?
But my mother’s long standing dedication to buying lottery tickets tells me something else about her that I might have had trouble seeing as a kid. I don’t think she has ever really expected to win. A quick Google search tells me that the average person has a 1 in ~300 million chance of winning the lottery. I don’t need to be as good at math (I’m not) to know how slim those odds are. Said slimness is no secret either.
And yet - every week or so, my mom lets herself be wistful, lets herself take a chance on something that could happen but statistically probably won’t. Allowing herself this small, simple act of frivolity now and then tells me that she still believes in endless possibilities, in the fact that no matter what, anything can happen. There is always a chance.
The other day, she texted me a picture of a wishbone and asked me to pick left or right. I picked a side. I won. Just like always, I didn’t tell her what I wished for, because I still want it to come true. I almost burst into tears when I got that text. She does this every now and then, and it always makes me feel the same way - like I am a kid again (not a 26 year old with chronic back pain) and I can have anything in the world that I want, should luck be on my side, even just for today.
I have a tattoo of a wishbone on the inside of my forearm now. I had it done a few years ago, and when someone asks me what it means, I usually keep it short: “I always used to crack them with my mom.”
As I look at my tattoo now, I see something more and I see it with greater clarity. To me, it symbolizes something that my mother subconsciously gave me - a quiet, optimistic belief that today could be the day that everything will change for the better. It’s like a piece of her that I’ll always carry with me.
I have so much respect for my mom - for adopting a second language with fluency, for immigrating to another country (in the 80s, a decade that I find terrifying in retrospect), for building a life where she can basically have whatever she wants. I should tell her that more often, but we don’t really talk to each other like that these days. Our most frequently discussed topic is probably the K-dramas we’re watching and whether or not we’d recommend them to each other. I love these conversations and I wouldn’t change them for anything.
But I have so much more that I want to say to my mother. While I search for the words, I’ll probably send her a link to this article and hope she can feel how much I really, truly admire her.
Things I believe I inherited from my mother include: the shape of my lips, a love of salty food, an appreciation of extremely theatrical TV and film. But the less obvious traits are what make me feel closest to her. Sometimes I forget what it was like to live in the same house together, to eat her cooking every day, for her to take care of me. Sometimes I feel so far away. But then, I’ll get a text - a photo of a wishbone, the words “left or right,” and I’ll remember that some things will never change.