Friday 9 October 2015


A Letter to Ma

Dear Ma

When God took pa home suddenly, I cried my heart out. I cried the whole way on-board the plane back to Singapore. My greatest regret is not telling him how much I appreciate him. I wished I could bring him back to life, just so that I could tell him. I do not want to make the same mistake.

Ever since I became a mother, I realized how amazingly capable you were, bringing up the three of us. I want to tell it to you, but each time when we skyped, the words just do not come out of my mouth. I told myself I will find a chance to talk to you, when you were here last summer. But your friends were always around you.

In the wee hours of the morning, I will write you a letter instead. And I hope others will read this letter to you.

You had only primary education, and you felt that you were very ignorant about the world. You didn't know what it was like to work in an office. You did not know how to type. You did not know how to use a computer. You felt you did not have much skills. 

In your eyes, I am more successful. I have a high education and work in a world renowned organization. I have been given the opportunities to experience all that you had not. But I realized that what you did, not many highly educated women could achieve.

Although you did not have a finance master, looking back, I am amazed at how you managed to make ends meet with the limited amount of money that pa provided each month, and sometimes no money or the money came very late. I remembered the late night discussions of pa and you worrying about money and when the customers would pay pa for the electrical appliances that he had repaired. Yet you still managed to make us 3 course dinner every evening - a vegetable, a meat and a soup with rice without fail, no matter how tired you were taking care of 3 kids. Without knowing it, you mastered the Just-In-Time (JIT) concept way before it was made popular in the corporate world.

I remembered you never ate with us at dinner. Now I realized that it was because you were worried that the food would not be enough. We would always eat first, and you would eat whatever that were left-over, even if it meant eating just plain rice with soya sauce and water. You gave the fish to us. You have developed the habit of doing that, and even until today, when we were no longer poor, you still could not kick off this habit. You only eat left-overs when you visited us in Denmark, despite my urging you to eat, while all of us were eating. 

I remembered there had never been days, when you did not make dinner. Day in and day out, you will find the energy to do all these and kept the same consistent standard of 3 dishes - vegetable, meat and soup. You would sew and mend my clothes. You would sew dresses for the only Barbie doll that you saved for months to buy for me. You would always find the energy to do the house chores. I have never seen you cried over the mountain of practical responsibilities you had as a mother. I wondered, if you ever cried behind our sight?

In your marriage, you modeled for us unconditional love for pa. You served the family tirelessly without any complaints. You would be forbearing over for pa. On the other hand, I could get calculative over our home responsibilities, over who is doing more or who is doing less. When I come before God, He would remind me that we should not only look to our own interest, but to the interest of others. God would remind me of your example.

Although I had a master in finance, I would not have managed the home finance as well as you. We don't have to worry about money, but I sweat to think if I were to be put in your shoes one day, if I could manage it as well as you. I have not been able to budget my food well, so often throwing away food that we could not finish. I am not able to just eat left-overs and give the good stuff to J. Sometimes I am tempted to eat the good stuff and keep the left-overs for J. There are days, I would just not have the energy to make dinner, and resort to takeaways so very often. And when I make dinner, very often, I can only manage 1 dish. It will take me the whole day to make 3 dishes like you did and I would be very tired. Until today, I still have not completed sewing the buttons on J's scout uniform. It is a real struggle. And I still have yet to mend his stuff toy. J asked farmor to help him sew it.

When I think of the things you had done for us as our mum, I am humbled. Many of the things, I am not able to do. And even if I managed to, I would have felt so tired. I would think of the following day and get upset over the never-ending routine of practical work as a mom, and cry. I would need some time to chill out with girlfriends over cafes and high-tea. But you did all those things without any opportunities to chill out with your girlfriends. 

I remembered you told me to learn all these life skills, when I was a young girl. But I refused. That was mainly because of the Chinese bias-ness, that you said that only girls need to learn, and boys do not. So I rebelled. I refused to learn. It was also so uncool to do those household chores in Singapore. From the elite girls' school that pa and you queued the whole day to get me a space through balloting, none of my classmates bothered with home economics. Those stuff are done in Singapore only by maids, even till today. We only need to bother to go to school, do homework and do well for exams. 

Then I came to Denmark. I saw the Danes. I saw how good they are with practical life-skills. I saw that my Danish sister-in-law could do all these without having a maid, and she is highly educated. She had learned all these during her childhood from her mother and father.

Today I regretted big time not learning to be more practical during my childhood with you.

I realized ma, that God gave us different skills that couldn't be measured by a degree and a shining corporate career. I realized that these skills are best learned during childhood - during that window of critical period.

So I have to buy back those lost time. I have reduced my career opportunities to go part-time, and I use the time to teach J those practical life skills - how to cook and how to do housework, even though he is a boy and not a girl. And I am actually learning along with him. I am given a second childhood to learn all these practical life skills, which I am very thankful for.

You might have sensed it, you might have not. When I was a child, in front of those rich kids from the elite girls' school, whose parents came to school in their Mercedes, dressed in suits and tie, and mothers nails fully manicured, I felt ashamed of our family and of us not having a maid at home. I want to seek your forgiveness, ma. That was so very silly of me. Now that I have grown up, I realized that I should be very proud of you, for what you have achieved at home. It is extraordinary. You are the best mum.

Dear ma, I want you to be very proud of yourself. You should not feel a sense of loss that you didn't have a degree or a high education. What you have achieved is no less than what other women have achieved. And I wish I could learn to be as good as you are, but I may not be able to do it in my life-time, because what one hadn't learn to do during childhood will not come as naturally and as efficiently learned as an adult. But I hope J will be as good as you and my Danish sister-in-law are. I am determined not make the same mistake again for the next generation. And ma, you have been a exemplary example in my life. You should know how much I look up to you as my mother.

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