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Published: Friday April 3, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday April 4, 2015 MYT 4:53:36 PM

The strong bond between women

A mother acknowledges the strong females in her life, who have helped to empower and inspire her

In Britain, where my in laws live, Mother’s Day is celebrated sometime between late March and early April. In Malaysia, we celebrate with the Americans on the second Sunday of May. As we straddle the two dates, I want to acknowledge the women who have helped me to become the person I am today.

My Ma defied her parents to marry my penniless father. Mima, my maternal grandmother cut her daughter’s hair off when she discovered Ma had eloped so Ma had very short hair for her wedding pictures. Living all the way across town almost 40 years ago without a car, Ma was isolated and sometimes depressed. I recall her caning my sister and I when she was angry. No answer we gave was ever good enough. She was much gentler on sisters number three and four, though life continued to deal her difficult cards.

However, Ma was also an amazing cook and a great listener. She talked to us like she cared about our opinions and listened to us like we were her equals. She was not the kind of mother to tell you what was right and wrong and rarely criticised our decisions. She gave us freedom other children could only dream of and I became all the more capable for it.

As a child, I was often frustrated that she seemed to know so little. She didn’t have ideas or solutions. I felt like I lacked guidance. Then I became a mother and understood exactly how out of depth one can feel. There isn’t a magic age at which you suddenly understand everything. What you do come to know however is that above all, your mother loves you as best as she can, with everything that she’s got.

My Mima was not always the frail and insecure person she is today. Once upon a time, she carried me on her back through the back lanes of Cheras so I would not accidentally cut my feet on glass from the broken bottles that littered the area. She pointed out papaya trees to me and told me some were male and female. She said she would like to have a cat one day when money was not so tight.

My Amma had chickens and adored sister number two. She gave me coffee, black as tar, from her saucer and told me that if I helped her with her chickens, she’d one day leave them to me. She was delirious with morphine, dying of lung cancer and did not realise that her house and chickens were long gone; developed into some swanky apartments in Taman Seputeh. 

Both my grandmothers were essentially single mothers. Though they had husbands, they were often left for long periods to raise the children while their husbands philandered and drank. I recall seeing Mima slapped for daring to question her husband. Amma’s husband pointed his shotgun at her, and then my father for trying to defend his mother, during an argument.

I also remember my Taima, my maternal great grandmother. She was little, always singing and filled me with awe. She came from China as a mail order bride for an older gentleman and taught herself to read. She also played the organ and was a skilled machine embroiderer. She taught me to sew and beamed with pride at my small and tidy stitches. When she found out I had a boyfriend, she wanted to see if he was handsome and then smiled smugly when he was suitably fair of face.

Because her son, my grandfather, was a poor husband, she sometimes lived with Mima to help her raise the children. She was especially fond of my uncle who lost his hearing to a terrible bout of fever as a toddler. Though they were a good team, they resented each other and I found their constant animosity confusing.

My mum-in-law was a complete shock to me. She is an only child and both her parents had died when I first met her. She was private and stoic, as only single children know how to be. Coming from a close knit family of four sisters, my then boyfriend’s mother was very different from anyone I’d ever met. After almost two decades though, we’ve laughed, quarrelled, disagreed and rallied together more times than we can count. We share so many similarities; we love to craft and sew and we sass our husbands. She graciously takes my side when her son is misbehaving and will listen to me rant without taking offense.

From this network of women, I have been woven into the person I am today. I cannot say how grateful I am that my mother and mother-in-law get along splendidly and that I can count them both as my greatest of friends and allies. When I am having a bad day, at least one will be available to laugh at my silliness. Failing those two, there are my three sisters.

From these amazing women, I’ve learned that though we may not have the answers and we may not be perfect, we are good enough. The fact that we get up everyday in our uncertain, imperfect lives and give it our all; that makes us good enough.

Tags / Keywords: Parentpost, Parenting, Family, Mother s Day, building bonds, strong women

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