THE BROOM BRUSHED the floor of the kitchen as my mom sighed.
“Mom, do you need help with anything?” I ask.
“No,” she responds in Hmong. “Go help your dad outside.”
She doesn’t always reject my help, so it makes me wonder what she’s thinking.
I walked out the door slowly, making sure she didn’t need any help. Before I knew it, I was outside. My dad dragged out the lawn mower and told me, “Start mowing the lawn. I’ll pick up all the fallen branches.”
Quickly, I got to the grass. Going backward and forward with the lawnmower, I watched as the grass shortened under every step. When I was halfway done with the front yard, my dad said, “Let’s empty the grass into the bag before you keep going. Help me put some of the branches into the bag, too.”
I could tell my dad appreciated my help. It was as if I took a load off his shoulders. In fact, his shoulders loosened when I took the hard work.
My family and many others look like average families that live in St. Paul. It’s hard to notice that our parents and grandparents are refugees who fled from Thailand. They came to the U.S. poor, looking for ways to give us kids better lives, but they still rely on us for help.
Eventually, we finished all the yard work. After washing up, I crept into the kitchen, where my mom was cooking dinner.
“Do you need any help now?” I ask.
“No. Go do something,” she replies.
I felt disappointed because I couldn’t help her like I helped my dad. Walking to my room, I looked to see if there was anything I could do for her. Unsure of what to do, I grabbed my backpack and tossed it onto my bed. After closing the door, I crawled onto my bed and sank into my blankets. Before I knew it, I fell asleep.
I woke up, then looked at my phone. It was around 10 p.m. I lay in my bed, gazing into the black sky through my window.
Bang bang bang!
My oldest brother, Ricky, cried out, “Mom, stop hitting your head against the wall!”
I listened closely as I sunk into the darkness of my room. I heard my mom sobbing and yelling at my older brother, Tommy, with a shaky voice.
“Don’t you understand what we went through to get here? We’ve been trying to help you, but you won’t focus on school. You have bad grades because you only focus on tennis and you haven’t thought about your future. It’s already your senior year, how are you going to face graduation?”
Tommy was speechless. Tears filled my eyes as I curled up into a ball of blankets. Shutting everything out, I closed my eyes and fell back asleep.
I was frustrated with Tommy while laying in the dark … helpless. He couldn’t see that we came from a poor family that ran for our lives. This was the first time that I heard my mom break down because of my brother. This experience taught me how emotions are not always spoken, but can be seen through actions.
Nobody was in the house when I woke up. I went into the basement and looked where my mom hit the wall. Walking to my computer, I sat in my chair, then hit the power button. I looked at the dust on my black monitor, recalling my mother’s words to Tommy.
“I could surprise my mom by doing the housework,” I thought to myself. I felt an urgency to clean the house for her. Hearing what she was going through, I felt I could only help by cleaning. I didn’t think of myself as a boy voluntarily doing what’s often seen as girls’ work – but a son trying to help his parents.
Instantly, I shut off my computer and ran to the laundry room, throwing all our dirty clothes into the washer. I pulled out the vacuum and started cleaning.
Seeing how everything became cleaner made me think of what my mom once said: “The cleaner your house is, the longer you’ll live.”
The vacuum did its job, crackling with every step until I reached my parent’s bedroom. Listening to the vacuum made me realize how us kids affected the house, compared to my parents. Our bedrooms were dirty, and theirs had almost nothing to clean.
I ran upstairs and looked through the window. When I opened the door, I looked at my mom’s face. There was a sense of relief. I didn’t get a “thank you,” but seeing her relieved made me feel great joy. I helped my mom without asking, but I could see she needed it.
Before my mom broke down, I didn’t pay attention to how we affected our parents. It made me wonder, “What if my dad’s feeling the same way? How’s he able to hold everything together?”
I still think of those questions today, and help my mom when I have the chance. I haven’t helped much, but slowly I’ll take the burdens off my parent’s shoulders.