Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On mothers and parenting skills

Asians tend to “mother” their children to death. I shan’t argue with that. Mum brought me up to be somewhat of a clone of herself. She used to tell me what to do, how to dress and much more. She loves her perms. So she thinks I should have perms. But I hate perms. Always have. I remember how she used to insist I need to perm my fringe. Why I hate perms I do not know. But I think ever since I had hair, mum wanted them permed!

Every school holiday, mum used to march me to 3rd Aunt’s home-based hair saloon. I was too compliant to resist. I was also too polite to tell 3rd Aunt how I hated perms. So, after every school holiday, I end up looking like one of the Three Stooges. And every time 3rd Aunt finished my perm, I would politely pretend how nice my perm looked and Aunty would look at me as her masterpiece.

But ever since I found freedom as a “young adult”, I never had another perm. And I never allowed any hairdresser to tell me I need a perm to lift my limb hair. I like my hair the way it is, straight, unpermed – thank you.

Turning into mum
One would think that I would have learnt. But why do I insist Princess of the House ties her hair this or that way when she goes to school? Or why do I insist Princess puts on a proper pair of pants or tights when we go for our hospital visits or to the movies? Perhaps I am turning into a mum who "over mothers".

I read once that you can’t raise spiritual children unless you and your husband/partner have the same spiritual qualities you seek in your children. How true. You can’t teach your child to be truthful when you constantly lie. You can’t make a child hardworking if you display an excessive liking for slothfulness. I am mindful I am a living example for my child.

Mum is my living example. We never used to have much money growing up. But mum fed not only our family but kids who came to play with us. Mum made cookies for Chinese New Year, not only for us, but for the entire clan. I haven’t had a single friend of mine who has met mum who doesn’t fall in love with her immediately.

Storehouse of strength
I have been looking at my mum closely lately, mostly as a storehouse of strength and wisdom. A kind of person whose qualities I would like to assimilate. And whose qualities I hope someday, Princess will come to appreciate too.

Today, when I spoke to her on the phone, she tells me she had a spectacular failure making one of our favourite Chinese New Year cookies – Kuih Bangkit. It is a cookie made out of tapioca starch, coconut and eggs. Made properly, it crumbles in your mouth – a perfect blend of coconut sweetness with the scent of the pandan leaf lingering in your mouth, perking your senses. Made badly, it is cookie whose taste you want to easily and quickly forget. Mum tasted my version when she was here last May. She pronounced me fit to make the cookie – an image in her own likeness, I think, I was. She laughed -- about how she, the mother wave has turned into a ripple, and I have become the next wave in the ocean.

Mum potty trained all of us from the time we were born – by potty train, I mean she held up our legs as babies and trained us to do our ablutions early in the morning so our bowels recognised it was time to move. My brothers and I never had problems in that department.

Mum didn’t smack us willy-nilly. She smacked us when she wanted us to learn a real lesson. Mum didn’t compare herself to those who had a better life than hers. She used to tell me in Hokkien “lang bi lang, kah toh pi yian tang” which loosely translated means you can never ever compare yourself, nor a part of your leg to the smoke pipes.” I take it to mean, don’t ever be foolish enough to make unnecessary or non-useful comparisons.

Never hurry a person at a meal
Mum doesn't like to rush people when they are in the middle of a meal. “You can hurry a person when he gets born, or when he is about to leave the word. But never, ever hurry a person when he eats,” she used to tell me.

Mum is extravagant in how she treats everyone but stingy in how she treats herself. She is a maniac when it comes to cleanliness. In this department, I am such an inferior sub-specie compared to her. I like randomness, she likes order. She loves and worships beautiful clothes, I treat them like pieces of material to wrap around myself.

So, today, when we chatted, I am reminded again, of how generous mum has been, and always will be. We said our goodbyes on the telephone when I had to rush off to pick Princess from school. She said “thank you” for my time, and my call, and tells me to take care of myself. And I couldn’t help laugh at the irony. Shouldn't I be the one thanking her, and telling her to take care?