Growing up, an icy fear would seize my heart whenever I walked into my mother’s bathroom to hear, “My child, I have a Lasko Trade for you.”
A Lasko Trade is the worst kind of trade a person can offer. There is no escape from it, there is no bargaining and there is no winning it. A Lasko Trade is when someone hears a compliment about you from someone else and then offers to repeat it to you in exchange for a compliment you have heard about them. The Trade does not allow for you to simply say something nice that you think about the Trader. It does not consider that you may not harbor compliments about other people to use as self-esteem based bartering material, instead foolishly repeating compliments of your own accord without promise of some validation in return. Until I was 25, I hated the needy Lasko, imagining him to be an Alaskan Mountaineer, the poor man’s Louis and Clark, trotting along behind some greater explorer, saying, “I say, Gibson, I heard something really nice about you. Is there any nice thing you’ve heard about me you could offer in exchange for such a great treasure as a third party’s opinion?” And Gibson and all the other explorers would just roll their eyes at each other, as Gibson dug deep in his brain for the moment some Eskimo had casually remarked on the flattering cut of Lasko’s fur cap.
I always knew that my mother was the queen of Lasko Trades, only recently inheriting the kingdom from our grandmother, a woman who has moved on to baldly demanding compliments without the frivolities of the Trade. My mother wore the crown well. And my poor brother and I graciously (to her face) played along for the better part of two decades, bitterly hating ourselves for bending to a system we believed to be so deeply engrained into society, we would never be free from it.
It wasn’t until my 25th year that I dared to speak the shame of Lasko Trading to another. I was having lunch with an old and dear friend and casually mentioned that my mom had asked for a Lasko Trade over the phone. “Don’t you hate those?”, I remarked to my friend, who looked strangely incomprehensive. That turned out to be the most fateful meal of my life.
A month or so later, I flew home for my brother’s college graduation, ready to give him the greatest present he could imagine: liberty.
There we sat; my parents, my newly graduated brother, and I, drinking cool beer in the hot sun. It was a perfect day. “Mama, I had an interesting lunch with Sarah recently.”
“Oh really? How is she?”
“She’s fine. Did you know she had never heard of a Lasko Trade? I thought that was interesting, so I started asking around. Mom, no one I know has heard of Lasko Trades.”
My brother had the same look on his face as the first time I ever said the f word in front of my mom in high school (I was late for a Madrigals performance, which we all know is pretty serious business for the 2nd Soprano Section Leader.), a mixture of fear and awe. Our entire family system it seemed was crumbling. My dad could barely contain the shaking of his body in silent laughter. He has never been a willing participant in the high drama I like to bring to family events.
“And moreover, Mother, who is this Lasko who needs so many compliments? Why is he so insecure? Why couldn’t he just be happy exploring Alaska and discovering new mountains?”
Looking more shocked than I’d ever seen her, my mother burst out laughing. “Lasko? Honey, it’s last-go, like ‘You go, then I’ll go last’. My mother made it up.”
This was too much information for one day. My brother and I were floored. There was no Lasko? Our grandmother made the whole thing up? No one else had to spend his or her childhood scrounging their brains for a forgotten compliment directed at their mother? Dammit.
“Mom, we don’t like them.” I felt secure speaking for my brother and myself. My dad, in keeping with his ability to be low-key, has never been subjected to Lasko trades and all their many traps. “We don’t want to do them anymore. If I hear a compliment about you, I will just tell you.”
And with that, the dragon was slayed. Since that day, our family has done away with Trades. And we were all left with the rest of the afternoon to enjoy the sunshine.