I was sitting in the kitchen, trying desperately to make pieces of purple and black construction paper look like myself on my self-portrait collage for my tedious and seemingly pointless art homework, when, as usual, I drifted off thinking of everything but.
“You’re thinking too much. I can tell.” My mother casually opened the fridge and pulled out some milk.
Thinking. I was always thinking about everything, wasn’t I? Thinking… Thoughts rolled though my mind, caressing every crevice. The endless train of thought drifted towards my reflections on life.
My mother is descended from Russian Jews who immigrated to New York City, and English and German “WASPS” as she calls them, clearly detesting her unavoidable heritage. My mother always laughs off how “crazy” her family is and how strange all my relatives are, like my great-grandmother, who did not believe in hugging her sons. Who would have thought she was related? Not her. When my grandparents married they moved to Italy and there my mother was born, and never, ever could she call herself American. She would not shame herself with that title, or associate herself with those stupid Americans… She is not an idiotic American! So why reveal that? Sono Italiana, as she says. Only if you really pry, will she reveal her Russian and Anglo roots.
She is a proud, but open person, which really are two contradicting characteristics. She speaks freely about her childhood and is never bashful of the shameful way she was raised by my grandparents, and has worked the fifteen years of my life to be everything but how her mother was to her. This proved difficult sometimes, but that’s alright since mothers are only human.
My mother’s education was really on the strange side, at least for me, a girl cultured by those asshole Americans, a girl taught with the terrible American education system. My mother, on the other hand, went to a prestigious Swiss school where all the rich kids picked on her and where she got held back because of her dyslexia. When it was finally time for university, she went to medical school to be a doctor. This was only the beginning of her way back to the wretched U.S.
The way my mother found her way to New York, her roots that she will not admit, was when she was to spend her residency at Harlem Hospital. She had the worst time of her life and decided America was not for her. Ironically, she married my father, a New Yorker, and has been living in her personal hell for almost twenty years.
Being a true Italiana, she raised me to be basically anti-American anything. Hatred for the tasteless vegetables. Detestation of the idiotic people ruling the country. Pity for the uneducated American. Anger towards the cold-hearted New Yorkers. Everything. Of course, this left me feeling ashamed of my own country, or maybe, as I used to think, I really shouldn’t call it my country. So that when people ask me where I am from, I say Italian and Japanese, instead of plain old American, which was what I used to think I was until third grade. I was American, wasn’t I? Thinking, thinking. Too much thinking.
When I turned thirteen or so, I started pushing away my mother’s international influence. I came to my great realization that she was naive of the overrated and confusing culture of the American teenager. She seemed to only know of the Italian teenager from 40 years ago. My culture was alien and she didn’t seem to like it that much, but tolerated it to an extent. She usually put in her unwanted two cents every time I displayed unexplored cultural territory to her. Very typical of my mother, saying things like: Why are you texting? Who are you messaging? Why do you take the word “hate” so lightly?Why can’t you hang out with your sister?Why don’t you come to the theater with me?Why do you want to need to have another sleepover? It could really be irritating and hindering to my so-called “social life”. There was a single answer to all her questions yet she couldn’t accept it. I was an American fourteen year old, and there was nothing else she could do about it. Because of my age, all of a sudden I was alien and unknown. I was an adolescent. That meant I was hiding somewhere underneath myself. Except everything about me was so simple and black and white. Nothing hidden, everything was laid right in front of her. Yet she was still searching for the answers. Trying to manipulate my complicated, adolescent mind. There was an air of mystery about her as she attempted to mould my thoughts and beliefs to her liking. She thought she didn’t know me anymore. Except she did, because there was nothing about me that I was hiding from her. I had become myself, not the other way around.
“Mama! I’m not just some dumb teenager who thinks they know everything.”
“Uh-huh.” My mother read her book, acting nonchalant because she thought it will solve everything. She thought it would make me stop. Thought it was the best way to deal with the situation.
“Stop that! Stop reading! You can’t just ignore me because I’m some stupid teenager. Acting this way isn’t going to solve anything. You don’t know everything!”
“I’m listening, I’m listening…” She practically rolled her eyes through her voice.
“Will you stop that?! You’re turning this all around on me. You’re the one who’s being crazy. Not me.”
My mother raised her eyebrows in surprise. Oh really? Her eyes said.
“See. You’re doing it again. You do this every time. I get mad at you, you realize I’m right, and you turn the whole argument around so that you are now the victim of your crazy daughter and I am the one being irrational.”
My mother continued to read.
“See! You’re not even listening. You can’t just manipulate me like this. It’s not fair.”
She just didn’t listen. Or understand. I was not disrespecting her. It was the other way around.
“You think you can just act like this cause you’re the mom. Well, it doesn’t do anything.”
“I can do these things because I am the mom.”
“No, you can’t! You don’t listen!”
Usually these stupid arguments ended when she couldn’t hold down the forts of indifference and yelled at me. Then I would roll my eyes at her outburst and feel better knowing that she at least couldn’t withstand me anymore, and that she was using all her willpower to contain her anger. The only thing worse than my mother’s fake nonchalance and way she looked down on my ridiculous ways was my father’s “disappointed voice”, which is why when my mother yelled at me it was more of a relief. At least she cared. At least she was listening. Why was it she made everything more complicated? I hated her attempts at trying to be sly with me. Her tricks and manipulations never got anywhere and just made me more angry. Things were far more simple with me than she thought. Everything is yes or no. Black or white. Opened or closed. In the end, there are never any grey areas. If in the end everything is grey, then it is only the beginning.
On the other hand, my father is 100% Japanese, born in New York City, a true American. My Japanese grandparents immigrated to New York for the field of medicine. They are a proud couple who have worked honorably and persistently all their lives. Unfortunately, they have never left an honerable impression on me. The older I get, the more I come to detest and notice my grandmother’s occasional racist comment about the man in the pet store, or her annoying comments on my height and foot size, (which neither are big) or what could be her favoring one grandchild over another. In my opinion, my grandmother was never meant to be one of those loving and caring grandparents, just the kind that gave you money on your birthday and ignored the rest. At least my father didn’t inherit those traits from her. Although, he is alike her in more ways than I would like.
It seems as if everyone on my father’s side are doctors. So one can only imagine what profession my father decided to pursue as a career. Or rather, what career my grandparents chose for him… Who knows? Either way, he regrets his decision. He is a doctor on the East side of Manhattan, a great one, loved by all his patients. I learned this from my stepmother and mother, since my father never talks about himself unless it is in the most modest and quiet way. If you inquire impertinently, as I did at age ten, other things are discovered about him that you thought would never surface.
“Have you ever wanted to be anything else but a doctor?”
“A teacher… or a writer.”
“A teacher of what?”
“Then why didn’t you teach philosophy?”
“Did you ever write a book?”
That was me, constantly asking questions only to get one word answers, because to him, the answers were clearly rhetorical. His quiet and modest personality worsened his unhappiness in life and unwillingness to talk about himself. The way conversations with my father went, I learned more about his past from asking my mother than asking him himself. What I know is that he grew up in the Bronx, in the comfort of the suburbs, (but still in the city of course) where there was a school nearby and trees that freshened the smoggy air. I can imagine my grandparents feeling immense pride and accomplishment when they finally bought the cute brick house with the skylights in the living room and the spacious yard and garage. What a future, they thought to themselves. A great future has rolled out in front of us.
As predicted, a future did lay ahead for the family. My father did very well in his school career: Lawrenceville, Harvard and Colombia are all diplomas framed and nailed on the walls, with sprawling signatures gracefully dancing on the cream papers. And then, as predicted in the future rolled before my grandparents, he became a successful doctor in internal medicine.
He is the type of man who wakes up at some early hour to take his morning run and then return to shower, button up his shirt, put his pens in his front breast pocket, pull on his corduroy pants, and carry his backpack on the train to work, almost everyday for years, a man of schedule and planning ahead. He sits quietly at the dinner table at the very end of the day and you can see the words in his head that don’t come out.
Being considered successful by American standards, of course my father wanted nothing else but the same for me, since before I was born. Maybe I wasn’t going to be a doctor like him and the rest of the family, since I had already shown my weakness for the maths and sciences, but that was fine, right?
Already when I was eleven or so, I felt pressure to be good enough. Each time it really wasn’t enough, though. I never got the appreciation I was yearning for. It has never mattered to me if once or twice my test grade is not the full moon in the sky. The few times the numbers are low, I don’t cry myself to sleep. But that is a fault to him. I should care about my grades more, shouldn’t I?
“These tests matter.”
“No they don’t. That’s why I didn’t try. It was the last time I was ever going to take that yearly test and every year I tell you that they don’t count and that the school doesn’t assume I am doing badly because of some test. I don’t want to waste my time on the last week of school doing some ridiculous test.You know that I’m not that stupid to get a score like that.” I grumbled, and rolled my eyes.
“Of course they matter! Why would they make you take the test in the first place? And they reflect your abilities somewhat.” My father leaned forward towards the steering wheel.
“No they don’t! They really don’t! How could you say they reflect my academics? Clearly they don’t!” I slid down the seat. “Do you ever remember my accomplishments?”
“Look…” He sighed.
“No. When I told you I wasn’t going to try on this test you nodded your head. Do you remember? Now you’re telling me I should have tried?” I sat up quickly.
“Well, you’re supposed to always try…”
“Oh my go-” I threw my hands in the air.
Did he remember all my accomplishments? Why did he even consider that the tests were reflecting my academic abilities? Why wasn’t there a doubt in his mind for why I did terribly? Shouldn’t he know better than to assume I needed help in “reading comprehension”? What about my national writing award? What about my high score on the New York City high schools entrance test? What about all my high grades? Compliments from teachers? Did they really not count anymore because of some silly test where I filled in circles? Or had he just forgotten everything?
I’ve done well in school not because I am incapable. I have been doing well for a reason. I have accomplished much for a reason. Repeated in my head. Did he see that reason? If I gave him a question to answer, would he fill the right one?
1. According to the passage, your daughter is:
a. smart and hardworking.
b. clever but lazy.
c. not good enough.
d. worse than all of the above.
Knowing my father, he would choose A. It’s the right answer, as any loving parent would believe. I know this because as my stepmother told me, his letter A is not surfacing. It’s sunk to the bottom of him. Can I believe that? To me though, his sunken letter A is not really what matters because all that I see floating on the top is B, C and D.
Does he see that he was lucky to have a daughter like me? A daughter that was never in the principal’s office, a daughter that never got held back, or a daughter that… Well, it certainly didn’t seem like it…
I snapped out of my angered thoughts. All these petty struggles… I wasn’t asking for pity, was I? Just thinking… Always, always thinking.
Age 15, Grade 10
Brooklyn Friends School