So who are you?
What’s your identity?
A daughter, sister, friend
Then an aunt, teacher,
A wife, mother.
These are my roles,
And they define me.
I am identified by these roles
That I play in this world.
I bought these flowers yesterday with my mother in mind. She would’ve turned 83 today. She loved flowers and liked to have fresh flowers on the altar, so I always bought some on Sundays when I was home.
I miss my mother. I miss hearing her voice, especially her laughter. She was a funny woman who could not tell a story without standing up and making gestures and lots of facial expression. But she only did that in front of her 4th grade pupils and us, her family. She always seemed different when with other people.
At her funeral, my sisters unanimously voted for me to give the eulogy. The youngest always gets the least easy task. I was unprepared (funeral was held three days after she passed on) — sleep-deprived, a restless 5-year-old to look after, and a flight to catch –and I was unable to deliver a eulogy my dramatic yet funny mother would have liked. Sorry, Ming.
These days what it feels like is wanting so much to speak with somebody but the person can never be there anymore. Not even a video call or even a text message. Just silence. And a big part of you just wants to break that silence even just for a minute, even if what she says is the same thing over and over again.
And today I heard something that made me sad. I know I’m a grown woman who already has a child of her own, but at times like these, I just wish I could just pick up the phone and call her and cry my heart out.
A few weeks before she passed, my mom saw me crying. She knew I had a lot on my plate — her health, my son’s health and keeping my family together in one country. She looked at me and confidently said, “Everything will be alright.” Like she knew for certain.
I hope she’s right, and that everything will truly be alright. One day. Soon.
I watched the movie “Lucy” sometime ago and thought the first half of the film was interesting, and then it just got stranger and sillier until the end. But one scene that stuck with me is the phone conversation Lucy had with her mom, where she told her she could feel everything, remember everything vividly, as if they happened just a few seconds ago. She could remember how her mother kissed her when she was still a baby.
Would you like that? To remember everything so vividly? I am guessing most people would like to remember just the happy, beautiful times and not the painful ones. In fact most people would prefer to forget the pain they have gone through.
When I was a little girl, being the youngest, I was very affectionate with my mother. I always liked kissing and hugging her and being kissed and hugged in return. She always smelled of Johnson’s Baby Powder, and I liked that. I went on being like this even when I was already in my late 20’s. My sisters used to tell me off telling me it was disgusting that I still acted like a baby when I was already an adult. But it never bothered me what other people thought.
Those are not the only memories I have of me and my mother in my childhood though. I also still vividly remember the times my mother got angry with me and my sisters. I would not say it was a typical Asian way of discipline, but it was quite common to be hit and scolded in front of family and friends or even strangers. My sisters and I sometimes talk about those times with a little sadness and a lot of laughter, but my mother remembers nothing of those times she was not gentle with us.
Yes, I remember them as well, but those hugs and kisses are the more powerful memories.
So now that I, myself, have become a mother, I hug my son tightly as often as I can, hoping he will never forget how much his mom loves him and makes him feel loved. I want him to always remember the loving look his mom gives him, and how when he is scared or hurt, his mom comforts him and makes him feel safe.
It is useless to wish he won’t remember the times I get angry with him, but I hope those memories will not be as vivid as the beautiful ones.
One of my favorite scenes from Dostoevky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov is at the trial of Mitya (Dmitry) when Dr. Herzenstube was called to the witness stand. He recalled a time when he saw Mitya as a little boy, “barefoot, his little trousers held up by a button…” He felt so sorry for him, knowing that Mitya’s father cared little for the boy, and decided to give him a pound of nuts. After that he did not see Mitya again, until twenty-three years later, a young man came to visit him and reminded him of his generosity. This young man said to him, “I’ve just come to town and I want to thank you now for the pound of nuts you once gave me, because you’re the only person who has ever given me a pound of nuts in my whole life!”
What happens in our childhood may have a major impact in our lives as adults. We remember things that happened to us when we were children as if they just happened yesterday. Some may be good, others may make us cringe or angry.
What’s your best childhood memory?
Understanding the encultured brain
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