Tuesday, March 21, 2006

pink notebook, 1984

On my fifth birthday, my mother bought me a garish pink notebook with an illustration of a house with perspective problems, inhabited by a family of grinning purple dogs. She wrote on the back of its front cover in her large, round handwriting: "A gift to Yu for your 5th birthday. Keep a diary every day. Mom." I don't know what she expected a five-year-old to keep diary about. But I was to write something in it, every day. Anything.

The pink notebook was one of the manifestations of her ambition to raise her only daughter to be a lover of reading, just like her (as you have suspected). To learn to read, one must learn to write, she must have figured.

My mother was a woman of dicipline. She made sure I wrote something on the notebook every day. She would make me sit at the dining table and draw her chair next to me. Sipping from her mug of Nestle instant coffee, she watched me squeeze an event or two and put them on the lined pages in my crooked handwriting of a beginning speller. In a few days, I came to resent the notebook. There wasn't much to write about in my infant life of hiding in a playroom of the kindergarten when the 2 o'clock snack of the day was mango (for I hated mangoes) and riding my tricycle on the white linoleum floor of my parents' bedroom, avoiding the imaginary monsters that roamed the dark and sinister caves that was the space under my parents' twin beds.

"There must be something you want to write about," my mother would say.

"There's really nothing!" I whined, wanting to hit the table with the 2B pencil in my hand but not daring to do so in front of her.

"You have to keep doing what you've started," she would resort to her favorite line. I wanted to tell her that it wasn't me who started the diary but her, that I never wanted to keep a diary. But again, I didn't dare to say it. I felt the tears generate in the back of my eyes. It felt so unfair. My nose became stuffy with the tear I held back. Eyeing my mother, I swallowed what almost came out of my mouse: "but I don't know what to write." Her face was telling me that there's no "but." She had a very low tolerance for whining, especially when it was about wanting to quit what I'd taken up.

I grasped the pencil firmly and put its lead tip on the cheap paper. I went over my day and tried to think of something to write. Nothing. I got up in the morning, went to the kindergarten, had a normal day and came home. Nothing special. I think harder. Nothing. The pencil starts to feel slippery in my sweating palm. I must have been making that grumbling noise unconsciously, for now my mother snapped: "stop oinking!"

I flipped through the earlier pages of the notebook.

"Tuesday, Jan. 23. I went to the kindergarten today and played with Ayako-chan and Sugimoto-kun." I'd done the same thing today, but I'd wrote about that already.

"Wednesday, Jan. 31. It's a month and two days till grandma visits us."

"Thursday, Feb. 1. It's a month and a day till grandma visits us."

It would be a bit risky to do the same count-down three days in a row. I needed something else. I went further back in the notebook for a hint.

"Tuesday, Jan. 16. Mom and dad had a quarrel. It was because dad went to golf and came back late." I could remember how furious I was on that day. My mother wouldn't let me go play with Naoko-chan because she didn't have time to pick me up later. So I wanted to take revenge in my diary. Writing about the petty quarrel between my parents seemed to be the best way to do so. But when my mother looked at the entry, she didn't say anything. I remembered my disappointment at the non-reactio of my mother.

Still I didn't have anything to write about. A five-year-old doesn't have a passion for detailed description, nor has she acquired the intellectual manipulation to squeeze some deep-sounding thoughts out of the mundane. For her to write a diary entry, there has to be something extraordinary happening in her life. And my life was a finest specimen of an ordinary life. Or so it appeared to my five-year-old self.

Finally I picked up the pencil that I had dropped on the table and started writing. I'd found a thing to fill in the note space designated for today's entry.

"Friday, Feb. 2. It has been a Friday today."

I don't remember what my mother said. The yellowing paper of the old pink notebook does not reveal what happened after that. The entry for February 2nd, 1984 ends right there, curt and brief, just like the other entries of my "diary" infested with drastically deformed or completely inverted characters and skewed pencil strokes almost tearing the cheap paper, revealing the grudge the sun-tanned girl held toward her demanding birthday gift.

keywords: Thailand, Bangkok, childhood, diary, journal, mother, daughter, parent, reading, writing, education, 1984, discipline, literacy


At 9:26 PM, Blogger Allen said...

I try to recall something, or anything, happened when I was five years old, but in vain. It feels like I have never been a five-year-old.

At 8:51 AM, Blogger uBookworm said...

I woudn't be able to recall so much if I hadn't found the pink notebook by chance, hidden between two thick photo albums. It was so funny to see my little rebellions left on the pages!

At 3:43 PM, Blogger Vicky said...

My mother gave me my first diary (journal, i call it now) at age five too!

(i came across this somehow after reading something of yours on the uic empty headed page)


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