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A parent’s reward

Maria Ngo

Thu Sep 06 2012


HOW often do parents put their children’s wellbeing ahead of their own? Now a mother of two, former international student Maria Ngo looks back on the sacrifices her family made for her future.

I’ve only see my mum cry on three occasions – at my dad’s funeral, on my wedding day and on the day she heard that Ah Kung had passed away.

I had just arrived in Australia to start my overseas student experience and my mum had come to see that I was properly settled in. We were staying at the girls’ hostel on Adelaide Terrace in Perth. She still had the telegram in her hands when she told me the news.

I didn’t know my grandfather that well. He did not live with us and we only visited them occasionally. As I did not speak Cantonese, I found communication with my mum’s family rather awkward.

Her grief was obvious, but I was not much help or support at the time. I was rather self-absorbed and had a poorly developed sense of empathy. I might have been a year shy of being considered a legal adult, but I felt a fledgling teenager who had barely flown the coop.

Reflecting back, I realised despite my grandfather’s ailing health, my mother had chosen my wellbeing above everything else. And now she had missed out on being with her father in his last days. It had to have been a sacrifice for her. The start of 1985 was now marked with an ending as well as a new beginning.

What is it about parents that make them put their children’s wellbeing ahead of their own? They’re constantly making all kinds of sacrifices on our behalf that we are unaware of. We do sometimes find out (or realise it) years later, and then they are so easily satisfied with our simple thanks.

But our gratitude just doesn’t seem to be sufficient – it’s so meagre, and yet, they are so easily recompensed. Perhaps that is the way of unconditional love. ‘There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” To seek the wellbeing and good of another and to sacrifice oneself for another is true love.

I caught up with some ex-uni friends recently. As we were reminiscing about our uni days, one friend revealed he had only realised how hard it had been for his mother to send him away years after the fact.

He thought she must not have loved him much because she had said goodbye to him rather stoically and with such a stern face. But she had held her tears in check because she did not want to make it harder for him to leave home at the time. To say they were ‘not well off’ would be an understatement – they did not even have a telephone. How his parents managed to scrape together sufficient funds to get him started was a miracle, as was his acceptance into the course.

Staying in Australia was quite a financial challenge for my friend though – he remembers squatting in the dark back alley in winter, washing dishes out of buckets with his bare hands. The pittance he was paid was barely sufficient to meet his living expenses, but it was not easy getting employment as there was always another desperate overseas student behind you in the queue.

That story seemed so surreal when I compare it to my friend as I see him now – sitting in front of me sipping his drink at the Marina Mandarin Hotel and listening to the soothing tones of lounge music.

My family had a phone. We had two actually. It was a nuisance though as my younger sister would always eavesdrop on my conversations! My parents had to work extremely hard to give us everything. Their business was doing well, but it was not stress-free. They were still tending to their business long after other people were snoring at home each night. Our front door never seemed to shut as there was always someone or other coming with sheaves of paper and leaving with armloads of products. After a while, even our two dogs and three (and growing) cats got used to it.

Of course, my parents did it all for us. They could have so easily settled into an easier pace of life if their three girls’ future was not at stake. Staying on course with one’s dream requires sacrifice, hard work and perseverance – and they developed that in abundance for our sake.

Today, with two children of my own, we do the same. I have set aside some dreams and picked up new ones. The cost is still the same – sacrifice, hard work and perseverance. And the reward is more than sufficient – their joy, their gratitude and their success.

Maria Ngo is a writer, mother of two and a former international student. She now resides in Melbourne and lends her perspective on the international student life from the other side. She loves photography, painting,  flowers and beaches, and has a tri-coloured collie called Maxi.