I’ve never told my mother that I love her. And I don’t remember if she ever did, too.
We’ll likely never get around to cheek kisses in this lifetime, and hugs – a recent development in our family – are literally touch-and-go. I barely have time to register the warm, fuzzy feels you read about or see on TV between a mother and her child, before we awkwardly disentangle.
Mealtime conversations usually revolve around variations of “Take more fish/ chicken/ veggies/ soup/ rice” and “Why you eat so little?” before piling more of everything on my plate even after I tell her I’m done.
Outward displays of affection and heart-to-heart talks are foreign to most Asian mothers.
They are, however, great at yelling at you for splurging, nagging at you tirelessly, guilt-tripping you for forgetting to do something you said you would, and generally driving you up the wall with some of their idiosyncrasies and habits.
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But saying “I love you”, showering you with hugs and kisses, or just asking how your day went? Not so much.
Yet behind that reticence, theirs is a fierce, unconditional and unconventional love.
To commemorate the most special day for mothers, The Pride celebrates some of the maddening quirks of our mothers that are simply their way of showing affection.
No misfortune shall befall you.
Time-honoured superstitions and cultural traditions are passed down through the generations, so they must be true.
Which is why during Chinese New Year, for instance, household floors are to be kept unswept to avoid sweeping away our good fortune, and we’re still forbidden to utter taboo words, such as “death” or “four” in Mandarin (which sounds like death), lest bad luck ensues.
But despite professing a firm disbelief in these irrational practices, my jiak kantang*, highly-educated colleague Ivan does them anyway.
“My mother’s strict observance of superstitious practices are her way of making sure that no bad luck comes upon us. It’s annoying, but impossible to fault her when you realise why. It’s not a selfish imposition of her will, so I do what she says to make her happy. You can see that she’s happy when we do.”
After all, mothers know best that it’s better to be safe than sorry.
*Hokkien for “eat potato” – an expression for someone who’s Westernised in their thinking
You will never go hungry. Ever.
Asian mothers believe that the way to our hearts is through our favourite dishes. They whip up enough food to feed a small army, and force make sure that we finish every last mouthful.
“I’m not surprised I was a chubby kid,” remarked another colleague Marilyn. I have no doubt her mum still (over)feeds her, but somehow she’s succeeding in maintaining a slender frame.
Food also acts as a beacon calling us home. On days when I’m not eating out, my mum would WhatsApp me her proposed dinner menu (“Steamed fish, fried veggies. ABC soup. Okay? You want noodles or rice?”), or pictures of dishes she attempted using whatever’s in the fridge (“See my homemade chicken patty. Better than McDonald’s [insert proud face emoji]”).
Even after massive arguments during which my mother and I would give each other the aggravating silent treatment for days, there would always be delicious food on the table – albeit without the usual friendly dinner service.
You’ll never lose your life’s possessions
If your room is a catastrophe and your neat-as-a-pin mother saw fit to help you tidy up and reorganise your mess, you’ll find that nothing is where you’ve left it.
After wasting precious minutes hunting for your belongings and getting increasingly frustrated, you yell for (and at) her and, miraculously, she manages to produce the very item you were looking for.
“It’s like her brain has a little catalogue of all the items she hides away from her kids, and she can immediately retrieve them when she needs to,” said Marilyn with wonder.
What can we say? Mothers are magical.
She longs to be close to you
One of my mother’s most annoying habits is to call for me when I’m in another part of the house, then remain silent when I answer. This would play out a few more times until, fed up, I’d stop whatever I was doing and get up to look for her.
Only then would she reply – sometimes with a request that would require me having to move anyway, but more often than not, she just wanted to inform or remind me about something.
After a while, I couldn’t take it anymore and flat out asked her why she couldn’t just save me the trouble of getting up if all she wanted was to tell me to send a message to my father.
Her answer: “Why must shout across the house like that? We are both at home at the same time. Cannot talk to your own mother face-to-face, is it?”
Mother: 1. Cheryl: 0. But it was one guilt-trip I gladly allowed her.
You’ll never die alone (if she can help it)
So, you’re of marriageable age and your mother’s cranking up the pressure on those pesky questions – going from subtle (“Any nice ‘friends’ you’re hanging out with from work?”) to outrightly brutal (“How old already, why still no boyfriend/ girlfriend?”)
It’s a problem my young, handsome, and eligible colleague Imran has been facing. His mother has brilliantly worked out a way to ease the question into their conversations, no matter what they’re talking about.
“If I went out at all, my mother would ask: ‘So, where did you go? Who did you go with? Any nice girls? Are you going out with any of them?’ But it’s only been three days since the last time she asked, so the answer would obviously be the same!”
I completely understand because I get it, too. And I’m much older than he is.
But while the incessant questions are a pain, our mothers just want to know that we’ll be in good hands when they’re gone. And they will be – one day.
So, right now, I’d like to make the most of our time together and, more importantly, remind myself that despite her singularly trying quirks, I love my mother – and she loves me.
I’m going to be as superstitious as she wants me to be, savour her cooking, appreciate that I can enjoy a face-to-face conversation with her, allow her to fuss about me, and patiently show her every day that I’m capable of looking after myself.
And on Mother’s Day, I might even surprise her with an awkward hug and kiss this year.