It was almost 3am.
I could feel the night chill on my skin as I sat in pitch darkness, trying to ease into the armchair. It felt almost mechanical for me as I was called to that spot every 2 hours.
Mum quietly took a seat in front of me as I began to nurse Esterlyn.
“It’s late, you go back to sleep lah. I can handle her.” I said to Mum, thinking that it’s a waste of resources for both of us to be awake (the pragmatic side of me speaks) since only I can nurse the baby. It had been 3 weeks since Esterlyn arrived and I was feeling the physical and emotional tension from how much life had changed.
She didn’t move an inch from her seat.
“I was mostly on my own shortly after you were born,” she started.
“At that point in time, I was very sad that your father left. I didn’t even hold a full month celebration for you because nobody knew what happened in our family.”
Not knowing where this conversation was leading, I casually asked, “You mean no one came to visit us?”
“There was one day Grandma and your cousin travelled by bus for 1.5 hours to get here, but I didn’t open the door for them. I hid in the room with you and your brothers as I didn’t know what to say to her,” she revealed.
“So when did the rest of the family know that he left?” I ventured.
“A few months later. I had to start looking for work and life had to go on.”
In the 4 months since Esterlyn entered our lives, there have been many sobering moments when I was reminded that being a parent is no mean feat and I’ve already learnt innumerable lessons.
I underrated my mother’s love for me (and my 2 brothers).
Growing up, I looked upon my life with disdain. I would compare myself against others from a perspective of lack; I believed that I had the shorter end of the stick. In my mind, I was an orphan and had to fend for myself because there’s no one I could trust or depend upon.
I used to entertain thoughts that everyone else’s lives might have been better if I didn’t exist. I was repeatedly told that all the bad things my family went through happened after I was born.
The years in school exposed me to a world beyond my narrow view and I learned to rationalise — at least I had a house to live in, food for sustenance and development opportunities through education. I would tell myself that I’m better off and should be grateful. Also, stop being so melodramatic, Delia. Many families travel similar paths too, so get on with life.
When I got married and became a mother, this simple truth hit me: marriage is for life, so is parenthood. In our society, the former may end formally but the latter does not end. Perhaps in my simple mind as a child, I sensed something amiss because there was an imbalance in our lives.
Now as a mother, I began to see my mother’s love from a new perspective.
Mum barely had time to grieve over her loss. She had to pick herself up and parent with the shreads of her emotional capacity. I believe that raising us single-handedly demanded all that she had. She persisted even if it meant longer work hours and forgoing meals to provide for us, with little (or no) rest to ensure we had a clean home to live in. Even on the days when she was running near empty, she never stopped giving.
I’m not in lack, she sacrificed for me.
As with all modern-day parents, Mum had many things on her plate. With the limited time she had, I believe that she tried to be physically and emotionally present for me. If she had a choice, she would have prepare wholesome home-cooked meals rather than takeaways. This was especially clear to me in the way she cared for me after childbirth. I relished every dish she cooked for me during confinement and the times she heard me out while I mused over motherhood.
I was not abandoned, she’s present for me.
Mum has never been affectionate with words or touch, but I know she celebrates my life. While she didn’t throw me a full month party, she has never failed to celebrate my birthday since I turned one. I believe that watching me grow year on year has brought smiles to her face. The many photographs she took of me growing up remind me that she’s proud to be my mother.
I’m not unwanted, she delights in me.
“Thanks, Mummy. I never knew how tough it is to be a mother till now,” I said with tears brimming. It was dark and I could not see her reaction, but I knew there was a deep understanding and connection because she is a daughter-turned-mother too.
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