By Lucia Kim
At 11:32 PM on a typical Saturday night, a mom and daughter chat while doing their nails.
“Did you choose your color yet?” my mom asks. She rips off a paper towel and places it on the kitchen table to avoid any permanent stains on the first thing guests see at dinner parties.
“Should I do this one or this one?” I hold up two nail polish bottles next to each other. “I feel like the pink matches my skin tone better, but I always do pink.”
“Then do the blue one.”
“Actually, I like the pink one more.”
“Then why did you ask?”
She picks up my finger and begins to file my nails, then pauses to look up at me. “Oh wait, I can’t see. Can you find my glasses? I think they’re over there.” She waves her hands, not pointing in any specific direction whatsoever.
“Ugh, fine.” I sluggishly push my palms against my knee, forcing my weight off of the chair. “Where is it, mom?” I ask, even though I don’t expect much of a helpful response. I look through a tiny basket we keep on the edge of our kitchen table that holds random envelopes and bills.
“Yeah, it’s probably in there,” she says, watching me shuffle through the layers of old receipts.
When I finally find the glasses, I hand them to her as I sit back down and she resumes filing my short nails into shape.
“Ow! Don’t do it too fast,” I snap at her, my fingertips burning from the friction.
“Beauty is pain. If you want pretty nails, you have to be patient,” she tells me, her eyes glued to my hands.
I sit back on the chair and look around. “Mom, what kind of life did you imagine for yourself when you were growing up?”
“When I was younger, I thought I would live in a mansion with a huge backyard, have a personal chef, and drive a different car each day of the week.”
She pauses and slides the glasses back up her nose. “I was too naive. I thought everyone owned a house and a car after they got married. I never knew that people actually had to work to afford these things.”
“How could you think that?” I ask, handing her the pink polish.
“You see, when I was a kid, my mom bought me everything, as long as it wasn’t too big. Sometimes I wonder if it was because my dad passed away and she was trying to fill what I was missing with money. So, whenever I wanted something, I could expect it to be in my room the next day.”
“Wow, that must have been really nice.”
“Yeah, very nice. But it doesn’t quite prepare you for when you’re married and your friends aren’t bragging about their pens anymore, but their new cars and houses.”
I lift my hands to inspect her work. “Moooooooooom.”
“Okay, okay I’ll fix it,” she says, using her thumb to wipe off the polish that got on my skin.
I put my hand back down, signaling her to resume. “Well, if you weren’t concerned about the money, what did you want to be when you grew up?” I ask.
“I think I wanted to be an elementary school teacher or a doctor.”
My mom lays down polish on my pinky with one swipe, smoothing out all of the imperfections. As she places the topcoat between her palms and picks up my thumb to put on the last layer, I ask her, “Then, why didn’t you?”
She pauses and looks up to the side like she’s trying to remember. “When I first moved to America, I took English classes with this woman who also moved from Korea. She told me she wanted to make money to give her son as many opportunities as possible. So, she worked hard, opened a couple of nail salons, and made a lot of money. But she said if she could do it over again, she would spend more time with her son instead of working until late at night trying to make extra cash.”
“Oh, so is that why you chose to stay home with us?”
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She opens the cap and wipes the excess polish on the bottle’s rim three times, ensuring that she has the perfect amount on the brush. “Yeah, I think the best thing a mom could do is to put her kids before everything else. Your kid’s success is more gratifying than your own.”
“But what about your goals?”
“I want your sister to be safe in San Francisco, I want you to be able to do everything you want, and I want your dad to get more orders for his business.”
“No, I mean what are you looking forward to? What do you want to do?”
“When you’re older, just buy me a house next to the church. I want to go to morning mass every day and pray for you and your sister. That’s all I need.”
I look down at my nails and let out a gasp. “IT’S PERFECT!”
“I know. I did a good job, right?”
“Yeah mom, you did a good job.”
As in many mother-daughter relationships, my mom and I talk about the most random topics, usually while we’re walking around the neighborhood, or eating take-out, or while she’s doing my nails. My mom isn’t only the first person I turn to for the perfect coat of pink polish, but someone I can rely on and trust with everything. Being an immigrant from Korea, she always says she’s sorry she can’t help me as much as the other moms. But I argue that she has inspired me and taught me more than anyone I know. This narrative between my mom and me shares a glimpse of our typical Saturday night. It’s a way of saying thank you and telling her that she doesn’t have to do what everyone else does to be the best mom for me.
Lucia Kim is a young author of poetry, memoirs and nonfiction for her family, teachers and mentor. She hopes to grow her reader base while spreading smiles through her writing. Lucia was born and raised in Queens, NY, where she lives with her mom, dad, sister and an abundance of leafy plants. When she's not writing at her kitchen table, Lucia loves to take walks, play the piano and read.