Sharing Mana‘o

Today is my mom’s 89th birthday, and I don’t know what to give her.

Six years ago, after seeing the movie “The Bucket List,” my mother composed a list of her own and began a birthday tradition of checking off an item each year in celebration of her special day. She has soared over the waters off West Maui in a parasail, rumbled down the highway on a Harley-Davidson, and surfed a few waves in an outrigger canoe. Ziplining and white-water rafting didn’t make her list, only because she’s already been there, done that, several times.

I’ve joined her on all of her bucket-list adventures. In fact, as her loyal and loving only child, I’ve been her sidekick all my life. The tandem parasail gave me flashbacks to my first roller-coaster ride, when I was 7 or 8, and Mom coaxed me onto the Mad Mouse at the County Fair. I remember shrieking in terror as we whipped around corners and plunged into dips, with Mom cheerfully reassuring me, “Stop crying; this is fun!”

For her 83rd birthday, we had dainty anklets tattooed above our right feet. At the time, I joked that she should add another ring each year, so that her leg would be fully covered by the time she reached 100. She said one was enough, but four years later, we had the names of our immediate family members inked in Japanese characters on our calves. I won’t be surprised if she decides to commemorate her 90th birthday with a third tattoo. No piercings, though; we have to draw the line somewhere.

I remember Mom as being a practical, sensible young mother with a playful streak. She loved naughty jokes – still does – and taught me my first raunchy riddle when I was 12. No, I can’t repeat it here. She always beat me to the prank on April Fool’s Day and never fell for any of my tricks. One year, she replaced my usual hard-boiled egg with a raw one, filled the sugar bowl with salt and gave me colored water instead of orange juice.

Most of the time, though, she was pretty conventional, dispensing typical mom advice about wearing clean underwear and not running with scissors. She never forced me to clean my plate because of the starving kids in China, though. Instead, she followed her father’s dietary philosophy: Eat until you want one more bite, and stop there.

As for minding my manners, both my parents placed a great deal of emphasis on courtesy and compassion. I was around 10 when I received a book called “Manners to Grow On,” a comprehensive guide to table etiquette and social situations. I memorized the entire text, and one night, when my parents and I were having dinner at the Maui Frontier (which became the Landing, the Chart House, and now, Cary & Eddie’s Hideaway), I tried to show off what I had learned. I scolded my dad for using his dinner fork for his salad, criticized the waitress for placing our plates from the wrong side, and generally behaved like an obnoxious know-it-all. Mom took me aside and said, “I don’t care what that book says. The only rule of etiquette you need to know is that good manners is making the other person feel comfortable.”

I’ve never forgotten that. Out of all the advice my mom gave me during my formative years, that’s the one I appreciate the most, to this day. That, and to learn to drink my coffee black.

Good advice and great adventures; I could write volumes about my mom. Her travel escapades include running away from a Siberian police officer and a wild ride with a Russian taxicab driver in St. Petersburg. Then there was the time she got up close and personal with the original Naked Cowboy in Times Square.

So you see my dilemma; what do you give someone who’s already done everything she’s wanted to do? Mom completed her bucket list two years ago and insists she’s perfectly content.

Hmm. Maybe I’ll make her a special birthday breakfast. Hard-boiled eggs and orange juice, Mom?

* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is