Even though she was a doctor in Vietnam, she was never passionate about medicine. From my aunts, I later learned that she loved languages, hoping to one day be a translator for the United Nations.
She was stylish, and paid meticulous attention to the way she dressed, as well as how my sister and I were dressed. When we were in elementary school, every evening she put our clothes out neatly on the guest room bed, instilling in us the importance of always appearing put together. My mother loved designer clothes and handbags, and she eagerly anticipated our summer vacations when we drove to Florida and stopped at department stores that carried Gucci and Fendi purses.
Growing up, I thought of her more as eccentric than creative. She possessed a true zest for life and lived every day to its fullest. In retrospect, I realize that in everything she did, from how she dressed to how she cooked, she expressed her creativity.
While she never practiced medicine in the States, and devoted her life to raising me and my sister, she did want to find some form of work that would satisfy her. When we were toddlers in Connecticut, she opened an Asian restaurant, which my father said closed because she was too generous to customers. During our teenage years, she started an online interior design class which she never completed. I think she must've found the most satisfaction in being a mother, and tending to small things, like the countless plants in her sunroom.
At her essence, my mother was community minded. Because she didn't drive, she relied on my father, a busy surgeon, to give her rides and take her on errands.
In most of the small towns where we lived, walking to the grocery store wasn't an option. My mother needed others, so she learned how to create a community around her that could support her and fostered her own network in all the neighborhoods that we lived in.
In Tennessee, there was Edna — a woman 20 years my mother's senior who grew her own vegetables and took my mother to the farmer's market every Wednesday morning. Then, there was Shirley, a hoarder, with a mountain full of clothes touching the ceiling in her living room. My sister and I never enjoyed visiting Shirley's home. Yet, somehow my mother found a way to call her a friend.
Because my mother didn't work, she thanked people by giving them her home-cooked meals. Every day she cooked up a storm, making everything from egg rolls to cream puffs, to give to friends and neighbors who helped her, or for my father to bring to his colleagues at the hospital. She refused to ever let us buy lunch at school, worrying that we wouldn't be satisfied by school lunches.
Today, I often see that many people struggle to find ways to be more creative in their daily lives. I appreciate that by observing my mother's life I had a perfect example of creative living. My mother taught me that even without a creative title associated to one's name that every day is an opportunity to be creative — from the food that we cook to the way we connect with others.