Love Means Biting the Hand that Fed You

Me with my younger sister, back in the day. | Image: George Chong / My sister and I enjoying an evening at home.<br />

Last month Yong Hyun Kim was at a Seattle movie theatre, trying to enjoy "Titanic" in 3D when a young boy wouldn't stop talking and joking around with his friends. Kim asked the young boy and his friends to keep quiet, but the boys kept talking. This then lead Kim to jump over the seats and to punch the boy in the face. A tooth was lost and Kim was arrested.

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After reading this my mind flashed back to the times my childhood involved flying teeth. My mother immigrated from Hong Kong via London and was slowly adapting to Canadian culture. One of my most vivid memories was at the age of 7 when I had a loose tooth. One night at dinner, after wiggling it one too many times with my tongue, my mother went to the fridge and brought out a large bottle of milk. She then took a thread and wrapped it around my tooth and the other end to the bottle. Her words were, "I saw this on TV." At first I thought I was going to be punished by having this bottle of milk as an anchor, but no, she grabbed the bottle, held it up, and let go. My body moved faster than my brain, the lizard part of me was in total self-preservation. My body dropped with the bottle so that my tooth remained in my mouth. I laid on the kitchen floor holding the milk in one hand and the thread with the other.

My mother was not pleased.

She took me by the hand, untied the milk from the end of the thread and led me to my bedroom. She then took the end of the thread and tied it to the door. What devious Chinese torture was she thinking? My squirrel like brain was in overdrive. She made me stand away from the open door and she slammed it. I moved like a Kung Fu master and clung to the door handle. The tooth was still clinging to my gums, my mother was furious. I looked at her with the wide eyes of a cornered rat, my eyes darting left and right for an open space to escape into the backyard.

She looked at me and sighed.

My tongue unconsciously played with the tooth again.

That was all it took for her to jam her fingers into my mouth. Her fingers tried to get traction among the drool. She finally gave up because I think it was either the fountain of spit or the realization she had part of her hand in a mouth with some really sharp teeth.

She told me that all she wanted was for me not to swallow the tooth, but more likely it was me swinging it back and forth like a garage door at dinner that drove her nuts.

About two days later my tooth fell out on its on, I told her that it was under my pillow for the Tooth Fairy. The next morning the tooth was still there and there was no cold hard cash. She wasn't going to reward me for letting nature take its course when it was far better for her to prove her love for me by pulling it out like a weed.

My mother did what she did out of love, and I know for sure that if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have made it this far without her concern for my well being. And now as an adult, if I had a loose tooth, I would surely sit still and let her pull it out and give her a big hug after.

Artist, designer and teacher Ophelia Chong explores her adopted city of Los Angeles with an eye and ear for the small moments that tests the duality of being an Asian American. Join her on her journey every Thursday on KCET's SoCal blog

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