(Top, From Left: Myself, my brother, Vincent, brother-in-law Kenneth)
(Bottom, From Left: Dad, Mom, my sister, Trudy, my Niece, Therese)
It’s okay – we are after all, family
Born 23 June 1943, my mother was born right smack in the middle of the Japanese Occupation during WWII. Growing up during the lean times of Singapore history wasn’t an easy affair. It would be no surprise to say that there were several challenges surrounding her family back during those days. Still, there were much excitement and adventures surrounding the family – especially after considering the size of her family There were more than 8 members in her immediate family and another 8 in her foster family.
Oh, I can still recall the stories that she would tell me! Uncles getting into trouble and stories of biasness in the family. I could still see how her face shines with glee when she recalled them! (But these are stories reserved for another day!)
Growing up in such a huge family (and not mention WIDE extended family network) did bring about its fair share of challenges. There would be bickering every now and then. And it was natural to observe a particular set of siblings being closer than the rest. Through good times and challenging ones, mum had simply refused to take sides – opting to remain neutral and offer a listening ear to all who needed it. Her time was really ready for all who needed them. And although she would often complain to me how she busy she was working around the house, she would always put down whatever she had on hand when a call of ‘distress’ sounded over the phone.
Mind you, with the exception of minor personality clashes, our family has never witnessed an episode of major infighting over assets or anything else in particular. Still, it would’ve been easy for my mother to take sides. But she’d simply refused that notion.
“What for?” she’d quip. “We’re after all, still a family. Let’s just say it and forget about it!”
That phrase was her hallmark whenever something unpleasant came up. To her, there was never a point to blow matters up or make any attempt of being calculative. To her, the family was the fundamental in a person’s life. Friends may come and go, but family sticks together forever.
My mother’s emphasis on the family could also be illustrated by the sacrifices she made to my family.
Growing up as a young (and very pretty) lady, my mother was one of the privileged few to have had the opportunity of studying in Secondary school. As a matter a fact, I think she was only the second person in the family to have learned the English language. This was a big thing back then, especially considering that she was a girl in a traditional, conservative and male-dominated society!
Being amongst the better educated in the family, my mother took on a job as nurse in the civil service. Back in those days, she could be considered as having a career going for her. But she chose to give it all up to care for her soon-to-be-adolescent children.
My mother’s rationale behind quitting her job was a simple one. She knew of the challenges that adolescence, and she was worried about my sisters and brother going astray during that period of uncertainty. She felt that her presence was needed to guide them at home. Quite simply, she just felt that she needed to keep an eye on them!
And keep an eye on them she did. Despite being one of the more pampered ones by my grandparents (my mother didn’t really know how to cook prior to getting married), she took on the role of the homemaker with all her heart – working on the household’s laundry and nutritional needs whilst taking time to supervise her children’s education and cater to their emotional well being. Her workload increased too when I suddenly decided to come along (Yes… I was… erm… a blessed accident =P)!
My mother took care of the entire household whilst my dad went to work. Ask any mother today about the challenges of managing a household and their 1-2 kids. They’d quote you hell. But my mother took everything in her stride. She’d complain to me alright… but she’d always end of with, “But, I’m happy to see my children well taken care of”.
“I’m proud of that”, she’d always say.
And I could see it in her eyes that she was proud of her work. She was delighted that the four of us turned out to be sensible and healthy.
As of now, I’d very much like to affirm the image of strength and admiration that you’ve painted of my mother – the one that I’m so very proud and blessed to have as my mother. She is a person of extraordinary strength and character… because, she broke down in front of me at the hospital.
She was tired.
Mum recounted the trying times when she had to hold the house together – alone when my dad was busy with work. She recounted of tiring it was running errands alone, and how she had to manage our well-being alone.
I know of men and couples struggling to keep the house in order. Some might’ve a couple of demonic kids running around the house, and most would either seek domestic help or ignore certain aspects of household management to spend some personal time doing what they enjoyed doing. But my mother’s principle was always to get the necessities done first before she’d indulge herself with her personal time.
The reason for her actions?
Because family comes first.
In an era where the nuclear family is the norm, and where divorce rates are spiraling, I find my mother’s example highly inspiring and enlightening. It is not sufficient for couples to stay together only during good times – in her words, a marriage is commitment that lasts for ever. Despite the challenges, my mother was always willing to sacrifice for the sake of her family and her children. She was always slow to criticise and quick to support. Her example of love and sacrifice was probably one of the reasons I stayed away from bad company – because I knew they wouldn’t stick around when the chips were down.
I’m all I am because of the fundamentals my mother instilled in me. These stories are not here merely to tell you how proud I am of my mother’s actions of love. Rather I think hers is an inspiration story of how her acts of love and sacrifice have shone through and how they can both be a beacon for tired parents to look forward to when times are tough. Simply because:
Family comes First.
Mom’s Lesson #1 – Family First
Mom’s Lesson #2 – More than Just a Thought
Mom’s Lesson #3 – Discipline – Respect for your Elders
Mom’s Lesson #4 – Just a Little Bit More
Mom’s Lesson #5 – Don’t Give Up – Just Do Your Best
Mom’s Lesson #6 – Go Forth and Explore
Mom’s Lesson #7 – Love & Sacrifice