I had a really random thought about my mum the other night. Literally, late at night before I fell asleep, a memory that had never been more than a passing thought popped into my head. I recalled my first day of kindergarten. My mum had taken me to school on the back of her push bike and introduced me to my new friends and teachers. I wasn’t too phased initially and wandered into the room, curious about everything around me. I looked back and my mum was there by the window, with all the other mums, waving – probably holding back tears – but putting on a brave face for their little people, starting school for the first time. I waved at my mum, and wandered further into the room. A few minutes later, I turned to look again and my mum had gone. Panic swelled from my heart to my throat. I cried and cried.
That part of the memory comes to me from time to time. But a few nights ago, for the first time, I wondered how my mum felt that day. She’d been with me literally 24 x 7 for a full five years. And for the first time in what probably felt like a lifetime to her, she didn’t have a kid with her.
Did she feel elated? Free? Light? Or sad, missing me, missing her shadow and the constantness of having a child with you. I don’t know the answer to this question, but I suspect she had an emptiness and a longing to be back with me that far outweighed the freedom of being child-free. Because kids are funny like that. They take and take everything from you. But all you want to do is give them more.
My mum gave so much of herself to us, and though it sounds cliché, I’ve never truly appreciated it (or even thought much about it at all) until I became a mother myself.
She gave up her university degree when she had my brother and raised us on her own with no family, no daycare, no technology (OMG!) and probably not much of a support network, with my dad being busy with his PhD and finding work to support his little family.
When we were in primary school, my mum picked up a casual job waitressing at a local cafe. I don’t know if we needed the extra money or if she did it because she wanted something to do. I don’t think it was the former but my mum would catch a bus every morning once we were at school and worked humbly and hard at her job until we finished school, and then she’d be mum until we went to bed.
When we got to high school, my mum went back to university to start a completely new degree. You guys, she studied an entire degree. While she had kids and a husband to look after. All I remember from this period was that she’d study at the dinner table, and wrote her assignments by hand (because, 1990’s). I remember during exam time, we were told not to disturb her, but all the while she was still mum, and I never once felt like she paid any less attention to me.
When she graduated, she got a part time job. I didn’t understand it then, but now I’m so glad that she did this, and regained a fraction of her own identity.
And the memory that really tugs at my heart strings now is this: I’m asthmatic. Always have been, and still am. When I was little, I was hospitalised for asthma numerous times, and on a few of those occasions, I was rushed to hospital in an ambulance. I cannot, literally cannot, even fathom how my mother would have felt to see me suffering so badly, to see me literally at the brink of death, and be so incredibly strong about it.
Before the non-offensive puffer and spacer was invented, she had to coerce me into taking the most horrible tasting liquid salbutamol ever and the most terrifying Chinese herbal medicine (like for real, called dong chong cau – the direct transalation being eastern grass worms – because these roots fucking looked like fucking worms) known to man. I remember howling about this, sobbing, begging her to not make me eat this. But she followed through, because my health meant more than anything in this world. It doesn’t sound like much, but this kind of stuff takes an enormous amount of strength.
On top of all this, I was hospitalised in a shared ward that didn’t allow for parents to stay the night. My mum didn’t drive then, and every single morning, she would catch at least two buses from the ‘burbs all the way into the city to be by my side. And every afternoon she’d catch them back home where she’d be mum, make dinner for my dad, and start all over again.
As we got older, she still gave and gave. And we just took and took and never thought about giving back. Riding the natural waves of life, I went through my stages of being close to her, of not really caring too much, of wanting to be independent. All the while not realising that no matter what, I need my mum in my life.
As I navigate my way through this minefield called motherhood, random memories pop into my head, and I wonder how she felt then, as a mother. How we made her felt, as our mother. When I reflect on these moments, my emotions range the spectrum of guilt for hurting her, to feeling so incredibly blessed that she was always there to nurture and protect us, no matter what.
I’m really happy that I’ve had the opportunity now to share motherhood with my mum. I’m so grateful for having such an amazing woman as my mother, so soft and kind on the outside but incredibly strong where it matters. I can only hope that I’m half the mum to Sam and Sofi as she is to me.
Happy 65th birthday, mum. We love you.