I have been a mother for 18 years. Yesterday was Mother’s Day in Singapore and I woke up to the slightly bemused realisation that there never was this commercial song and dance around Mother’s Day when I was growing up.
As the mother of an almost-adult, caught in the interstice of being both a mother and a daughter, I am amazed to discover the extent to which retail, advertising and commerce have become fundamental to the most basic human relationships and emotions that we take for granted and cherish in our own individual ways.
Mother’s Day. Father’s Day. Valentine’s Day. Flowers. Cards. Gifts. Notes. Unnecessary and extravagant buffet lunches. Champagne.
And then I opened The Sunday Times, and discovered one of the best essays for the occasion, written by Mr Rohit Brijnath, who shares the same space that I do, which is perhaps why it resonated so deeply.
Today, no card written by a stranger and printed in a factory and placed in the Mother’s Day section of a shop will arrive in the home of an 80-year-old woman in India. No, not going to happen, it’s just not our style he began. And later, in the article, he wrote It’s as if, in an increasingly homogenised world, we’ve discovered a glib, global formula to define this most personal of relationships. We are relying on Hallmark to give us a blueprint for loving mothers.
Which, when you think about it, is absolutely true for those of us who find packaged sentiment the perfect cliche of a market stereotype – both distasteful and avoidable. (I treasure a hand-made poster which I got a couple of years ago on Mother’s Day, showing a puzzled young monkey holding up the bleached skull of his mother; ostensibly, she expired from just looking after him … the metaphor and underlying sentiment was very clear.)
We are all bound to our mothers in delicately different ways, we express love differently, we need them differently, they annoy us differently and they are imperfect differently notes Mr. Brijnath and that is perfectly put. A mother-child relationship is complex and unique to the pair, it cannot and will not fit the easy photo-shopped cupcake mold of the ‘ideal mother’ or the ‘ideal child’. The reality is that there is no ideal prototype, some of us are monkeys, dead or alive.
Maybe the one gift I can give my mother today is not to see her only as my mother, but to see her in her entirety, as a complete, complex woman. To see her not just as a nurturer or sacrificer but an an individual with dreams and defeats, who cannot be reduced to a single role as parent says Mr. Brijnath. Indeed, that would be a gift and an understanding beyond price.
And it should be accompanied by the realisation that motherhood is not a franchise that belongs just to mothers. In Singapore, I am reminded again and again that the donkey work, for lack of a better description, is often the responsibility of helpers; the day-to-day minutiae of meals, clean clothes, baths … and more … rests on the strong shoulders of the live-in helper, an onus that she accepts and meets with good cheer and deep affection.
My son made a little card for our helper, a thank-you card from not just him, but also the two dogs (one arthritic and cataract ridden, the other full of teenage bounce and verve), the ill-tempered cat (with kidney, thyroid and urinary tract issues), and the pond full of koi, catfish, guppies and parrot fish … all these living, breathing beings with needs … who this cheerful, bustling lady cares for, 24/7.
Indeed, as we acknowledge our mothers in whatever way we choose to – and whenever that might be – we should at the same time recognise those who help our mothers stay sane … that ever-widening circle of womanhood who together bring up a child.