Sharing Mana‘o

My mother turns 93 next Monday. This presents me with a couple of dilemmas. First, what do you get a nonagenarian mom who insists, as moms will, that she doesn’t want anything for her birthday? The bucket list she started 10 years ago has been completed, amended and re-completed.

Parasailing . . . Check. Motorcycling . . . Check. Canoe paddling . . . Check. Tattoo . . . Check, check and check. For her 83rd, 87th and 90th birthdays.

I know what she doesn’t want for her birthday. “You shouldn’t write about me so much in your column. Too much already.” When I tell her that, based on the feedback I receive, she’s your favorite subject, she protests, “Oh, they’re just being nice. Don’t write about me anymore.”

Both my parents considered humility to be one of the two most important virtues they could instill in their only child, compassion being the other. Bragging was forbidden, whether about oneself or family, including pets. (“If Jingles is the smartest dog in the world, people will be able to see that for themselves. You don’t have to tell them.”)

In my 8th-grade year, I became the first kid to win the Maui County spelling bee two years in a row. When people congratulated my parents, they always responded with a polite “thank you,” occasionally adding, “She was lucky.” Mom must have noticed my disappointment in their lack of enthusiasm, because she sat me down to explain, “We’re so proud of you, we could burst! But if we talked about it to other people, well, that would be bragging.”

I think Mom sees my accounts of her exploits and adventures as bragging, and I guess she’s right. This brings me to the second dilemma. Do I honor her wishes (and my upbringing) and find a different topic for this week’s column, or do I go ahead and write another birthday tribute as I had planned?

On one hand, I’ve already recounted my favorite Mom moments, including the fulfillment of each of her bucket list items, her fondness for zip lines and roller coasters, the Yosemite trail ride in which she slipped and dangled precariously off the side of her horse for what seemed like miles (after being rescued, she offered to give trick riding lessons to the rest of the group), and wonderful childhood memories of April Fool’s pranks and comfort foods. I’ve shared the pearls of wisdom and gems of humor she continues to lavish on me, at least the ones that are printable in a family newspaper. Over the past seven and a half years, Mom has starred in 10 “Sharing Mana’o” columns and has been mentioned in dozens more. Maybe she’s right, too much already.

On the other hand, my regular readers can’t seem to get enough. Almost daily, I’m asked about Mom: How is she feeling? Has she added to her bucket list? How many tattoos does she have now? People who have never met my mother thank me for writing about her and ask for more. Her zest for life is an inspiration and a delight to observe.

Sorry, Mom, I can’t do it. I can’t stop writing about you. Look at it this way, we’re performing a public service, bringing smiles and laughter to Maui News readers. And rest assured, when your fans stop me in the street to express their admiration and affection for you, I thank them politely, without any unseemly boasting. I confess, I often add a comment like, “Yes, my mother is an amazing woman and I hope to be just like her when I grow up.” But I swear, I’m not bragging.

To quote one of your favorite Western stars, Walter Brennan, “No brag, just fact.”

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