My mom is 83 young.
At 32 years she had a beautiful life, a happy marriage with 2 boys – me at 2 and my brother was 1 at the time. However, just 4 years into her marriage my dad was diagnosed with cancer and passed away within months. No one prepares themselves for something like that, surely not a lady with two toddlers. Life had gotten hard, confusing, and scary.
The devastation and intense grief of loosing my dad led to anxiety and depression for a couple of years. In a culture when the death of a husband meant exile, vulnerability, and abuse mom had to fight for her identity and status in life. Back in the day a Indian widow is forever burdened by the misfortune of having outlived her husband, is physically alive but socially dead. Mom survive as a single parent largely because she was motivated to make a better life for her children. Falling apart wasn’t an option.
Her sacrifices and selflessness still blows me away. She worked harder than any other women I knew, held multiple menial jobs just to make ends meet. She wasn’t highly educated but she was hardworking and determined. She was a baker, a caterer, a seamstress, a production worker, a teaching assistant and a baby sitter, any job she could find to provide for us. The stressors of being a widowed single parent took its toll on her physically, emotionally, and financially but she persevered. Everyday was a battle but she taught us that no matter how difficult things may be, falling apart and giving up wasn’t an option. She hanged on to the believe that all her sacrifices will one day pay off when we become successful in life.
I recall times when we slept together on a mattress that sat on the floor squeezed into a 20 sq m room which served as our living room and bedroom combined. Before I was 12 we move house several times living with relatives and in several rental units. She was scared and lost but kept it all together for us. I recall times we were unsure if we had money for the next meal but family was always there to help. We were fortunate to have my father’s younger brother to support us financially. My aunts and uncles were like surrogate parents, cousins were like siblings. They were mom’s and our support system. We learnt the importance of family unity, became physically and emotionally close to them till today.
I witnessed first hand the hardships mom had to go through and because of that I had to grow up real fast. She taught me the importance of hard work, dreaming big, and thinking outside the box. She was determined for us to succeed, made us strong and independent. I matured and learned responsibility at a young age.
Even though we were Indians she felt that studying mandarin as a second language would ensure a better future for us in a country where 75% of the population was ethnic Chinese. It was tough going but mom kept encouraging us to stay the course by saying that knowing Mandarin will be highly useful when we’re adults. She said we can absolutely do this, it won’t always feel like we can, and self-doubt will always creep in but if she can take care of us as a single parent we can also achieve greater things in life. She wasn’t wrong, as an adult speaking Mandarin launched my career, opened up many doors. Her vision of the future, her encouragement, her wise words ultimately secured by future.
I am very lucky that she taught me how to do household chores like sweeping and mopping the floor, doing the laundry, folding the cloths, making our bed as soon as we woke up, cleaning the toilets and even painting the apartment. Everything a dad would do with a son mom did it with us – the played a dual role and both perfectly. Doing all those chores didn’t seem so fortunate at the time, but now I appreciate those lessons. When I entered the military at 18 to serve my national service making my bed each morning and all other chores we had do do came naturally to me compared to the boys who always had others doing it for them. My first Sargent Major was my mom, all others who came after her during my national service were not as tough.
Witnessing her handling whatever adversity thrown at her with grace made me fearless and resilient. She always said hard work matters, complaining doesn’t help. Watching her work so hard ceaselessly has pushed me to do my absolute best. It came as no surprise to her when I decided to pursue my career in Russia in the early 1990’s and subsequently in Africa when I could have taken the easy path by building a career in Singapore. Watching mom and all the adverse experiences we went through during my childhood made me hardy and resilient, shaping how I handled all the subsequent challenges that came my way.
Nothing was handed to us on a silver platter, we made do with what we had. Th rifting and setting priorities were woven into my life. It still baffles me as to how she managed the day-to-day fiances of the the household with just S$500 a month. She always made sure all bills were paid on time, she always said “never owe money, never borrow money, always pay your bills on time”. Before I even studied finance formally I was taught by my mom how to manage my finances.
As we could not afford video games or a visit to the arcade back then we were happy with the simple pleasures of life – playing football with kids in the neighborhood, jogging, fishing at the pond, catching spiders even, etc. My mom’s resilience and the values instilled by her enabled me to thrive as a son, husband, and a father. Till today even though I can afford the latest X-box I still don’t game as I’ve learnt to prioritize at a young age – a lesson I try to teach my son, lessons I remind him taught to me my his grandma.
Life was hard. Mom did not have all the answers. Luckily for us she pulled herself together. She did it for us, she did not have the luxury of breaking and God knows there were so many occasions she could have. She showed us how to be strong, resourceful, and responsible, and that paid off. She was tough on us, at the same time she raised us with love and kindness and she was supportive and present.
She taught me the key to being happy is learning to be happy with what you have but more importantly never forgetting where your started in life. She equipped me to deal with negative events but also help me appreciate the positive ones, ultimately savoring the simple pleasures in life.
Today we each have our own property. At 83 mom insist on living on her own, does her daily exercises, routine medical checkups, grocery shopping and very much independent, with little help from me or my brother. We’ve come a long way since that 20 sq meter room. She made everything possible. She’s my Wonder Woman.