Love and loathing: Mothers’ Day reflections

WITH Mother’s Day round the corner, Meld’s Fiona Ren makes sense of a daughter-mother relationship that hasn’t always been smooth-sailing.

I started a rebellion against my mother once.

I forgot the event that spurred our cause, but I remember successfully amassing a large following (my three sisters), winning them over after I’d likened our mum to pest control. I said she eliminated our freedom to scurry around the house one at a time… I was 11 or 12 at the most, so forgive the poor analogy.

Together we were united against our “oppressor”, fighting against 9pm bedtimes and Math, determined to uphold our rights to all the chocolate we could eat and our entitlements to TV after 7.30pm.

Mum found out about the coup before we even had a game plan. She’d overheard a conversation between my sisters and I. When she confronted me about the analogy, I remember going cold.

“This is it,” I thought.

“Time to pack my bags and move to the park down the road.”

Looking back, I admit I was not always an easy child.

Likening my mother to pest control was just a slice of the headaches I gave her throughout our 22-year relationship. Like most children, I didn’t respond well to authority.

During my pre-adolescent years, house rules and allocated study times were, simply put, “stupid” to me. So I tried my best to dodge them. Our domestic helper at the time was always too preoccupied with chores to be strict with us anyway. But all that changed when I turned 10 and Mum decided she would quit her job to give her four daughters her undivided love and attention.

While I was excited, I knew Mum being home would mean no more after-school TV, no more playing the Playstation without permission, no more dancing in the rain, no more throwing cushions around the living room and then jumping on them, pretending the floor was lava. No more fun.

It was a prophecy that somewhat came true. Mum made sure we spent our afternoons finishing our homework, studying to stay up-to-date with the school’s curriculum and practicing the piano to “sharpen the mind”. Only then did we get the green light to tune into MTV and the Disney Channel. It was certainly a radical change.

Before mum quit her job, my sisters and I would take turns sitting in bed with her each night, learning to read with a little help from Peter and Jane.

Then we became adequately literate and mum replaced reading with Math. Math had always been a passion of hers, and so instead of hiring a tutor, she imparted her knowledge on the subject herself.

Our bedtime lessons became scheduled so that we’d always be chapters ahead of our teachers’ study plan. Mum did this so we’d be quick to catch on in a classroom environment where students rarely receive one-to-one attention.

If there was one thing that grated on me more than our household’s one-soft-drink-per-week rule, it was Math. Night after night, I would drag my feet to the study sulking. I refused to say a word, simply nodding mechanically unless I was asked a question, at which point I would grumble the answer with furrowed brows before going mute again.

I spent three grueling hours trying to solve an equation once. Tired and in tears, I just wanted to go to bed. But Mum wouldn’t let me off the hook.

“Think,” she said repeatedly.

“You know this.”

In the end, she was right. I did know it, but I went to bed that night feeling resentful, as I would many more nights to come.

In retrospect, I can see that Mum was trying to do me a favour. All those nights, I wasn’t simply receiving an academic lesson, I was being taught qualities like patience and perseverance. Of course, I never saw it that way so I reacted by throwing tantrums.

“You just want me to be miserable!” was one of my favourite lines to throw at my mother.

The strict curfews imposed on my sisters and I in later years, as well as the cross-examination we had to go through before we could go out didn’t help in lessening the quarrels between Mum and I.

Who leaves a party before 11pm anyway? And what was wrong with a 14-year-old wanting to go to a Linkin Park concert with a friend?

I’ve come to realize now that Mum’s fights with me were always borne out of care, not malice, though before the distinction was never so clear to me. After all, when tempers are flaring, good intentions are easily overlooked.

During our heated arguments I would forget how I was once the 5-year-old girl who hung onto her mum like a koala hugging a tree whenever she would drop me off at my grandparents’ to go out.

I’d forget that when I was 13 and had trouble fitting in at my new school, it was Mum who encouraged me by giving me daily pep talks (“Did you make new friends today? No? That’s okay, tomorrow is a new day!”).

I’d even forget how excited she would be when the topic of boys came up. And no matter how hard she pushed her children, she would always say she was proud of us no matter what we did.

Graphics: Marcus Huang

Maybe now that I’m older, it’s easier to comprehend the sacrifices Mum made for my sisters and I.

In the past, I’d only seen the day she quit her job as the beginning of an indefinite sentence of no fun for me. I neglected to see what she had to give up in exchange for our then-unacknowledged needs.

All those times she would say no to going out with friends because we needed help with school projects, the accumulated hours she’d spent in her car, taking us to and from school, the shops and friends’ homes – when she could’ve been enjoying the crime novels she loves so much.

How could I not have grasped sooner that her life revolved around her children?

For so long, I yearned for independence and freedom from Mum’s overprotective arms. But now that I’m living far away from home, I find myself  longing to be wrapped around Mum’s blanket of comfort and security once more.

I yearn for a hug after a bad day, for her to laugh at me when I worry about silly things, for her to hold my hand and reassure me that everything is going to be okay. I miss the little things she does that move and surprise me, like the time she’d unexpectedly handed me a pink flat box during my first week in Melbourne, having remembered that I wanted a new pair of gloves.

With Mother’s Day this Sunday, I sometimes wonder how different a person I would’ve become had Mum gone down a different path with me. I suppose I’ll never know. But if there is one thing I’m sure of, it’s that there is no woman I love and respect more on this earth than the woman who gave me life and then raised me – my teacher, my protector, my friend, my mother.

What was your relationship with your mother like? Share your stories, anecdotes, and Mothers’ Day reflections with us in the comments section below.

There are 3 comments

  1. k

    Great article. I relate to this very much as I am going through a tough time currently, quarrelling a lot with my mum. Thanks for this!

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