Festive seasons are hard for me, especially when we have to gather with people. You know those questions that people get during the Lunar New Year?
“When are you getting married? You are not getting any younger!”
“Har?! Married for XXX years and still not pregnant?!”
“You should have a boy next!” (If you already have a daughter.)
“You should have a girl soon!” (If you already have a son.)
“You should have a third!” (If you already have two children. Or have a girl if you have two sons, a boy if you have two daughters. As if procreation is a service that you can order online and have DHL deliver it to you.)
“WOW, FOUR!” (Accompanied with one raised brow and a smile of a mocking Cheshire cat.)
I have only been subjected to a few of these interrogations as I had the luxury of being away in London for 5 years while I got married and had my first child. Since returning home, however, I haven’t been spared from the curiosity that (unfortunately) didn’t ‘kill’ the cats.
Yesterday evening, I attended a dinner with the in-laws’ extended family and I shed a few tears and lost sleep over what ensued from some conversations. The same, old, tired shit that happens every year.
“So, Rachel, you still taking care of the kids from Monday to Friday?”
“Yes, I am.” (And I wanted to add Saturday and Sunday to the list of days I’m working too.)
“You….don’t go out to take classes to learn something?”
“No, because I need to take care of the kids.”
“You…don’t do anything for yourself?”
“Oh yes, I bake and sell.”
Being a SAHM, I clearly do not have anything in common with mothers who have high-flying careers. Apparently. From this convo.
When caught not drinking alcohol:
“Why are you not drinking? Are you still breastfeeding?”
“Yes, I am.”
“WHAT?! Still breastfeeding?! OMG, I cannot believe it!” (This was said with disdain, not admiration, mind you.)
On sending Faith to XXX primary school:
“So which primary school are you intending to register Faith at?”
“XXX primary, I guess. I am not particularly keen but given the number of phases and restrictions, going via the alumni route seems to be an easier way of getting her into a primary school that is close enough to us, instead of getting dumped into a school even further away. We are still thinking about our options.”
“Har?! Your daughter is just like you, right? If your daughter’s character is like yours, then I think she wouldn’t fit into such a competitive school culture.”
(I had this irresistible urge to point out that I was one of the top students in an elite secondary school and two of the best universities in the world. You know, brag till the cows come home in the name of self-defence, even though I don’t actually believe my achievements at school and at work reflect my abilities; I tend to think all those achievements were flukes.)
It felt like I was stabbed in my heart several times over. I think the questions and remarks made by this relative were innocuous because she is more of a straight-talker who wears her heart on her sleeve than a person who is out to hurt another, but I couldn’t help feeling like I…wasn’t enough after the conversation.
Did I choose to be a SAHM because I wasn’t competitive or driven enough?
Is my son still on the breast because I invested too much of who I am in him?
Am I a poor role model for my kids because I stay home and take care of them, and that I don’t go out and learn new things to stay in touch with the world?
Have I been forgotten by once-friends and the society because I chose to be a SAHM?
Am I a lesser person because I am not a working mother?
Am I now…irrelevant in the age where success is measured by salary, power and the time one spends at work?
I couldn’t sleep yesterday night. I tossed and turned and cried myself to sleep. Have I gotten it all wrong?
Then, I thought about someone I had visited in the morning. She is bedridden, frail and struggles to open her eyes. Breathing is weak, laboured and a luxury. Her body is eaten up by sickness, and what was once a whole person, a mother, wife and friend, is now reduced to a shell. People would hardly remember what she has achieved or how much she earned or how she struck the perfect work-life balance between her career and her family. Those who gather around her would instead, fondly remember her loving, caring, giving ways that made the world a better place for them. Or at least, that is what I’d like to think it should be when we arrive at the winter of our lives.
It’s never easy to be questioned about your decisions that were so painful to make in the first place. I don’t always sail through them and quite often doubt what I am doing when Envy, Expectations, Struggles, Comparisons get the better of me. I am a work-in-progress and my thoughts are too. But I hope, working mother or not, I will leave the world a better place for my children and loved ones to live in. That in small ways, where I have been forgotten in a world that sees otherwise as Success, when my breathing is laboured and weak, when my flesh is being chipped away by Time, my children will love and fondly remember me for the mother I have been to them.