(this entry was inspired by fiona ren’s piece published on mothers’ day, entitled “love and loathing: mother’s day reflections“.)
there is something very unique about a mother-daughter relationship. and there is certainly something very unique about my relationship with my mother.
one of my earliest memories is being bundled up in a yellow fleece hoodie and boarding a plane to perth with both my grandmother and mum. i was two at the time and barely understood what was going on around me. but everything was fascinating – i saw a koala for the first time, had an unlimited supply for paul’s icecream (every kid’s heaven), and the pleasantly cool weather was a nice change from singapore’s humid conditions.
growing up, mum and i went to perth four times a year. and as the years went by, i finally realised that our trips to australia weren’t simply for leisure, but for something else altogether.
“you never know if you are the answer to someone’s prayer.”
perhaps the above quote sums up my mother’s relationship with me quite perfectly.
i was considered a “miracle baby”, although i did cause mum a lot of trouble even before i was born. but because mum prayed so hard for a child, God decided to reward her dedication and love with… me.
a stubborn, outspoken, ill-disciplined child. (haha)
before i turned two, mum was the personal assistant to the director of one of asia’s largest banks. grandma was the designated babysitter, often staying well overtime, especially if mum was stuck in a meeting. mum usually left for the office before i woke up, and i fell asleep before she could return from the office. and after awhile, i began calling grandma “mummy”.
as a result, grandma told my mum to quit her job, or she threatened to leave me alone at home without a babysitter.
mum quit her job the next day.
till today, i cannot believe my mum quit her job just like that, much to the chagrin of her boss. i often tease her, “so do you regret leaving the bank for me?”
to which she’d reply, “are you crazy?! it’s probably the best thing i ever did.”
it was only in my pre-teen years did i understand that our trips to perth was more than a holiday. not content with being a stay-at-home mum, my mum – the determined, driven lady of strength that she is – wanted to study the intricacies of the australian education system. she wanted to teach english in a way that’s different to what was already available in the singaporean market. and so we’d spend hours on end in bookstores, where she would pore over dictionaries, guidebooks, assessment books and more.
i learned to read on the very floor of dymocks bookstore on hay street in perth’s cbd. sitting on that maroon carpet, i travelled to charlie’s chocolate factory thanks to roald dahl; i joined the famous five on their adventures; i dreamed of a magic faraway tree.
i devoured books at a remarkable speed and mum never berated me for it. instead, she bought me every book i laid my hands on. she also bought me my first journal, and taught me to write.
at first, my writing was a few sentences about sheep, pretty blue skies, and fluffy white clouds. then she taught me to read the newspapers with a keen eye. she taught me to ask questions. and she taught me to write about them, to write about everything i dreamed of.
she taught me to dream.
then came my teenage years, where i began to resent everything she had done for me.
i hated the fact that my mum wanted to plan my life. i especially hated the many tuition classes lined up, supposedly for my own good. and i started to look for fulfilment in other things, like the school choir.
mum could only sit back and watch while i learned about failure firsthand. this is one lesson she could not teach me. she watched while i flunked every math and physics test.
in my four years in high school, she only made one negative comment, when i obtained a big fat zero for a math test.
despite the fact that she had encouraged me through all the other times i’d failed, i chose to focus on this one sentence that shattered my confidence. how silly i was to overlook everything else she’d said:
“it’s okay if you fail. just try again.
“i was never good at math too, but you can do it!”
“if you need help, i will find a tutor. just tell me, okay?”
eventually, i sucked it up and asked her to find me a tutor. and she set about this task with great fervour, engaging one of the best (and most expensive) math tutors in the country.
i never did pass my math exam. i don’t actually remember how to use “log” or “sin” “cos” and other algebraic terms.
but i do remember my mother wiping away my tears before every math exam. i remember her words, telling me that failure is okay. i remember her smile when i told her i’d scored a 46/100 for my final exam, enveloping me in a huge hug.
of course, there were other instances that displayed my wilfulness. but with her wisdom and patience, mummy taught me the hard lessons of life. she showed me that i will not always get my way. she taught me that using foul language was a sign of lousy vocabulary – which she knew not to be true, as she endeavoured to build my vocabulary since the day i turned 2. she showed me that while an appreciation in the arts is important, but i did not have the determination nor the talent to make it my livelihood.
my mother is an incredible woman.
but perhaps the biggest act of sacrifice from my mum is sending me to melbourne to further my education.
just as she taught me to dream, she, too, has big dreams for me. until today, i cannot believe my mother would send her only child to a foreign land in pursuit of an education.
and here i find myself, so many years later, picking up a pen and paper. picking up the day’s newspapers, asking the all-important questions. writing and journaling. being the spelling and grammar nazi that my mum is.
without her, i would never have fallen in love with the english language. without my mum, i would never dream of making journalism a career.
but more than anything, without my mum, i wouldn’t be writing this today.
i know mothers’ day is over, and sometimes i hate that we need a day to celebrate everything our mothers have done for us. but today is a day that i miss my mother so much, i wish i could be by her side. i am incredibly thankful that i am alive because of her persistent prayer. motherhood is so much more than a full-time job, something i will learn firsthand if i have the privilege of becoming a mother someday.
i love you, mummy.
happy mothers’ day.