Saturday 25 December 2004

More on Mak

I am, if you like, offloading my excess emotional baggage here before I can proceed anywhere else.

This week, twenty five years ago, Mak waved me off at the airport as in her own words "Pi lah. Dah jadi bini orang!",as I clung on to her even then frail frame, returning several times to hug her for one last time. Before I became bini orang, I was never far from her side. I was the manja one though not necessarily the youngest one. She'd accompany me to shops, post office and even waited for me outside the school gates as I did my first temporary teaching. When I was away at college, she'd deny herself and my other siblings my favourite food such as crab sambal. Should I return late from anywhere, she'd be on the faithful old iron 'ndoi' or swing that Pak bought, selendang around her neck, ready to go searching for me. And then, I became someone's wife and was transported halfway across the world to fend for myself without as much as two complete recipes in my head. Tell me, who has ever heard of anyone, who washes keropok before frying them?

Anyway, I am continuing this blog after chatting with my brother who said Mak is talking about going back to her house again. And he wants me to try to talk her out of it. Hmmm...

A week after her illness, she said - as a last request, "Bawak Mak balik rumah Mak. Mak nak pi kubork Pak, kubork Tok. Lepaih tu, kita balik laa mai KL balik. Mak nak tengok ayam itik Mak...pokok bunga Mak tak terjaga." And wait for this, "Lagi pun Pak buat rumah tu kat Mak, dia kata tok sah tinggai, tok sah pi mana-mana pun!" More hmmmm...! Here we go again!

Some years ago, for Mother's Day, I wrote the piece below:

"YEARS AGO, before becoming a mother myself, I read a book that haunts me to this day - Nancy Friday's My Mother/Myself. No disrespect intended, but I couldn't really see myself becoming like my mother! I didn't want to - not at that time.

But four children later, now in their teenage years, I have this chilling feeling of deja vu. Every time I open my mouth to say something to them, I hear myself uttering my mother's words - sometimes words I myself cringed at hearing as a child.

I do the things my mother used to do, like calling every other name BUT the one name whose body and soul is right in front of me. I tell them off but cry my eyes out on an assignment for just two days away from home. My home telephone bill is evidence of my tracking them down at those times when each and every one of them should be back from school.

Without a mobile phone in those days, my mother would wait outside, sitting on the old iron swing. Half an hour later, she'd have her selendang ready to go out for the search. But where?, I used to ask her.

These are no means negative attributes of my mother.
Heavens no! She brought up six children almost single-handedly as our father was handicapped due to an accident. As an only child, whose own mother cherished her own independence, she'd be forgiven if she did not know how to bring up her own children. But circumstances have a way of making up for lost opportunities. She later had to look after seven half-brothers and sisters whose love and devotion have never wavered to this day.

This memory of my mother has nothing to do with the fact that Mother's Day is just round the corner. My mother never knew there was a day devoted to her. And does she care? Not one bit. Not as much as I did when my own children pretended to forget my birthday or Mother's Day.

But I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that right now, I know she is sitting at home patiently looking after her own bedridden mother. A 70-year-old who needs looking after herself, in a role reversal where her own mother, at 90, becomes a child.

And it has a lot to do with this guilt building up in me. Being 8,000 miles away, a progress report on her health and welfare can only be conducted through the phone. Once when she was admitted into the ICU, I flew home and spent 10 days by her bedside, enough time to realise that after all these years, I couldn't care for her the way my brothers and sisters and in-laws were caring for her.

I just stood there and watched them fuss over her. I couldn't accept that I had to care for my mother who used to be or was supposed to be strong.

Where did all her energy and strength go? I envy the closeness and rapport my other siblings have with her and it is at such times that I blame her for waving me away at Changi Airport for my flight with my husband to London. It is easier to apportion blame than to admit failure.

I videotaped her progress on the hospital bed, right up to her flight from Alor Star to Kuala Lumpur to recuperate. She insisted that we bring along her mother, who had not left her bed for more than five years, so she could keep an eye on her.

As for me, it was easy to watch these relationships - mine and hers, hers with her mother - through the lens of a video camera and only let go of my emotions in the privacy of my own home, watching the video.

My attachment to my mother's kebaya sleeves was only severed when I found my life partner. Again, this is shifting blame. She led me by the hand to my first classroom and did the same on my first day as a temporary teacher some miles away from home. Later, she told me she waited at the bus stop long after I went in to teach.

The furthest then I'd been away from her was when I was at ITM, Shah Alam (UiTM now). She'd send me off tearfully at the bus terminal with soap, foodstuff, minyak angin and blankets.

On my last trip home from London, she gave me a thick blanket she'd bought from Padang Besar. This was for the children. "It's cold in London," she said. I didn't have the heart to tell her that the Padang Besar blanket wouldn't be sufficient in the English weather.

She finally learnt to let go. Once when she suspected I was talking on the phone with a boy, she swept the area around my feet clean and polished the phone table until I finished the conversation. Nowadays, I don't have half a chance, as much as I'd like to - thanks to cordless telephones!

While I never had the freedom to go on school trips, my children have gone to Spain and France without so much as a backward glance at their sobbing mother.

When we were growing up, didn't we see our mothers as step-mothers or ogres, the way our children see us now?

I believe this has something to do with conspiracy among fathers. Just keep quiet and let mothers do the nagging. My father never said a harsh word. It was always "anything goes" and would even wait up for us to come back from late night parties or accompany us to watch horror movies. It was always mak with the big NO and the power to veto. And this power is exercised to the highest degree especially when dealing with daughters. And the cycle is repeated.

Last Mother's Day (April 2 in England), my children and their friends surprised us mothers with a delicious spread on the table. My eldest daughter, whom I suspect sees me as a dragon, gave me a lovely card and candles. She loves me after all. She once told me that I didn't understand her as she was growing up. "Pardon me", I retorted. "I'm sorry I don't understand because I didn't grow up like you. I just grow old!"

Cynicism never gets you anywhere. She just rushed up to her room.

I don't know about you, dear readers, but I'm one of those martyr mothers that Alice Faye Cleese wrote about in her book How to Manage Mothers.

I never let my children forget that I spent the whole day working to pay for their tuition or slogged the whole evening in the kitchen for a meal before them. But this is not a trait I inherited from my mother. She never complained the way I do now. Her devotion is so unconditional.

Sometimes, it is a relief to talk and listen to other martyr mothers. Its like a martyr mother's convention. One friend had a way of reminding her children about the value of education.

"If you don't study hard," she said, "you'll end up sweeping the roadside! And I'll drive by in my Mercedes with my friends to our coffee morning. When my friends ask me who you are, I'll say, `That's my son who didn't study hard when he was at school!'"

A real mak tiri she was. She's now back in Malaysia and in between her busy work and commitments, spends her time massaging her mother, who has lost mostly all but her ability to nag!

My own mother is just out of hospital, I'm told. But I'm not worried. She gets herself admitted as a way to have a rest away from her demanding mother and then she's back combing her mother's hair and massaging her tired legs. Will I have this patience, Nancy Friday? Pray tell me! ""


zaireen said...

Kak I call you Mok Teh? LOL..
I glad that I found your page..seems funny and yet enlightening..

Keep writing

Kak Teh said...

Thanks zaireen. Mok Teh is okay as well!