Becoming a parent, makes you marvel for the first time about your own parents. My mother had frequently said as we were growing up “Wait till you are a parent, you’ll see it’s not so easy”, which I basically took as her excuse for not letting me have my own way. Now I can see myself parroting this to my kids. Banker is already practising in front of the mirror how he will deliver the immortal words “As long as you are under my roof…”
Before motherhood, I rarely thought about my mother having an independent life before me. She’s “just my mother”, and yet, as I became a mother myself struggling with identity, it made me think about my own mother.
My mother was the 5th child of 8 (one of whom died in infancy), born to a primary school teacher and headmaster in Taiwan. Being one of the tiger economies that developed rapidly in the latter half of the last century, Taiwan 60 years ago was quite different from the urbanised and high-tech country it is today. Developing-world poverty, high infant mortality and child labour were still the norm. Luckily for my mother, teachers in the East are very highly regarded and as such, my mother was more privileged than other children. For instance, she and her siblings were the only children in her class to wear shoes. Despite this, when the school held a maths competition with a pair of shoes as the prize, she won it and became the only person in the school to own 2 pairs of shoes.
My mother had studied entomology at University. She had not done as well as she had hoped in her exams and therefore didn’t get on the course she wanted. Despite pleading with her father to re-sit, she was told by my grandfather that as she was a girl and therefore destined to become a teacher and then ultimately a mother, it didn’t make any difference what she studied at University. That’s how my mother, an academically and socially able woman became a reluctant entomologist and subsequently a secondary school science teacher and a mother. Choice didn’t come into it.
When my mother went into labour with me, my father had moved abroad to study. By then, labour was already old hat to mum as I have two older sisters. She hopped on to her moped and scooted off to hospital by herself. Through contractions she weaved through the traffic ever aware that third children have the habit of flying out due to the pelvic floor’s diminished function from prior encounters with large skulls. She got to hospital and out I plopped. No doula, no water bath, no-one else present – just pragmatism.
Later, she joined my father in the UK, bringing 3 kids, aged 3, 5 and 6 years with her on her first ever time on an aeroplane to start a new life abroad in a foreign country, knowing no one and speaking not a word of English. I struggle to take 2 kids abroad on holiday despite being a seasoned traveller!
In the UK, we were poor. As a family of 5, we lived off my father’s PhD funding. We did not have a washing machine or enough money to visit the laundrette and my mother washed all our clothes by hand on a wooden washboard. She knitted our clothes and as shops in 1980s South Wales did not sell “exotic foodstuffs” like noodles, she would make noodles from flour and water by hand and hang them to dry off broomsticks in the kitchen. Occasionally she ventured into strange western cuisine by trying her hand at a packet mix “Blancmange”.
At our birthday parties, we had no entertainers or bouncy castles. My mum and dad bounced my friends and I up and down on a taut blanket. That basically sums up my mum: a fun, resourceful woman with a can-do attitude. Although we were poor in childhood, she ensured that we ate free school meals with pride, we never felt inferior and we never knew deprivation.
I never wondered if she had dreams and aspirations that had not involved her children. Shamefully, even now, I expect her life to be focused on me and her grandchildren and I have a spoilt brat attitude to finding out that she has her own social life. What about me? Such is the way of great mothers that they appear always available for you, and sadly much taken for granted. The “wind beneath my wings”.
Sometimes I wonder what my children will think of me when they are adults. To be sure, they will not be thanking me for:
the pain of squeezing their ginormous heads through my birth canal
the cracked nipples
the sleepless nights
the being victim to their projectile vomits
the bottoms wiped
the temperatures taken
the bruises kissed
the sandwiches made
the homework checked
the meetings cancelled
the playdates arranged
the sports days cheered
the play lines rehearsed
the books unread
the body neglected
the shelved career plans
But if my children regard me with an ounce of how much I regard my own mother, I will be very happy indeed. A friend, whose father has recently suffered a stroke reminded me of the fragility of health in people of our parents’ age and the urgency in making time count. It is with this in mind that this Mothers’ day, I want to say a big “Thank you” to my mum. And with regards to my own motherhood, to remember sometimes, it’s not the spoken “thanks” but the little things that make it all worthwhile.
HAPPY MOTHERS’ DAY EVERYONE!