As a grumpy teen wading through the murky waters of the adult world, tussling with my mother was commonplace. Although I did not engage in shouting matches or outright rebellion, as my Significant Adult Figure, Mom was often the scapegoat for my angst. Many of our exchanges would inevitably end with my mother exclaiming in frustration: “Wait till you are a mother, then you will understand!”
Back then, I would roll my eyes and focus on how I was injured as opposed to what she was saying. If I considered what Mom said at all, it all sounded like ominous premonition. But as a mother myself now, I realise that it was actually a rather good piece of advice. Maybe not typical mother-to-daughter wisdom, but nevertheless, sound advice: some truths just cannot be explained or discussed until the recipient acquires context that comes with experience.
I have discovered, and often tell my two daughters, that motherhood is the hardest thing I have ever attempted and stuck with. But if Mom had tried to tell me this 20 years ago, I’d probably have just rolled my eyes, pursed my lips and sulked. Maybe it is just as well Mom couldn’t share her struggles with me: maybe I would have decided it was just too daunting a prospect.
As I consider my mother’s journey of motherhood, I realise how tough it must have been to be virtually the Single Parent in the household for at least the first decade of my life. It must have been such a challenge for a young mother (she was 21 when I was born) as she struggled to be a good role model while dealing with her own insecurities & hassles. For example, she taught my sister & I to swim even though she could not swim herself; something I only found out many years later.
She also worked very hard to make our home life pleasant despite our financial difficulties: home-cooked gourmet meals (think black pepper ice cream, choux pastry filled with all sorts of imaginative fillings, spaghetti bolagnaise in a time when pasta was only available in hotel restaurants), ornate & memorable birthday parties (one year we had swan novelties made from eggs of various sizes), immaculately clean home, beautiful matching outfits for my sister and I for every occasion. She wanted us to have every comfort & opportunity possible: classical music from the record player filled our home although she herself preferred pop music, books filled the shelf even though she preferred magazines. Only now do I understand how much courage it must have taken to educate us in areas where she was not an expert.
I sometimes wonder what my daughters roll their eyes over, and if anything I share with them is making sense to them. But maybe it’s best that I just rephrase Mom’s advice: “You will understand better when you are ready”. Meanwhile, I can only do what Mom did: my best.
My mother turns 70 in a couple of weeks. We are off to Ipoh, Malaysia to celebrate her birthday. Meanwhile, I am glad for this chance for a pre-birthday tribute and celebration:
Happy birthday, Mommy. Thank you for continuing to love me through all my unlovable times ( and I know there are many of these)! Thank you for never giving up even when things you did and said did not seem to matter – you were planting seeds, and now I am reaping the rewards! Thank you for continuing to journey with me, even as I make my own journey as a mother: thank you for resisting the urge to say “I told you so!”
Feature Photo: taken at Changi International Airport on our way to Hong Kong, October 2012