Credit. Something that I generously give everyone but myself.
Each time someone pays me a compliment, I’d immediately blurt out, in a manner akin to a knee-jerk reflex, that the stars, moon and sun aligned at the exact time I reached up to scratch an itch on my right cheek to cause things to turn out so marvellously. You get the picture…I’d honestly believe in any cause other than my efforts or talent, and this is the way I have been since I was a little girl. I didn’t know how to say thank you to people who said nice things to me, until M told me that it was rude to brush off people’s compliments; after all, they went the extra mile to voice their opinions when they didn’t have to. That’s when I started to practise saying thank you, but only because I want to be polite to others and not because I truly believe in what they say.
I know I don’t make sense. I think the world of people who have done something good out there. Mamas who go to work just because. Mamas who stay home just because. Mamas who know when to let their hair down because they deserve a breather. Mamas who refuse to take a break even if they are on the brink of a burnout. Mamas who hold it together in tough times. Mamas who sob into their knees in their bathrooms when the kids are asleep. I see so much good and strength and resilience in people, especially after becoming a mother, but I fail to give credit to yours truly where credit is due. Each time I may have done something worthwhile, I brush it off and believe that it is something that others could and would have done (and they would have excelled at it instead of scraping by just like I was) if they were in my position. No biggie, is what I’d say.
Now, I didn’t realise what a slippery road that mindset has led me to. Up until yesterday, I had discredited myself so many times that I have unknowingly reduced my self-worth to zilch over the years. And it took a heart-wrenching, tearful conversation with M after our weekly brisk walk for me to realise that.
It all started when I told M I overheard someone telling a mother that she was incredibly brave to drive her two young children out on her own. I thought the mama deserved a pat on her back too, and I thought that friend was very sweet to have pointed it out to her. Two minutes later, it dawned on me that I have been doing that since E was born. Many mothers would be home with their newborns during confinement and even in the first few months while their partners or family members help take the older kid(s) to and from school, but after M’s week-long paternity leave was over, I was driving a screaming newborn and a petrified F (because she didn’t understand why her new brother was crying) for a total of two hours everyday, come rain or shine. I didn’t have help to ferry F around and I just had to step up to do it, even if I were exhausted, scared, confused and recovering from the physical trauma of childbirth. I remember the days when all three of us would arrive at F’s school soaking wet because I didn’t know how to balance an umbrella whilst fishing E out of the car seat to pop him into the sling and getting F out of the car with her bags in tow. I remember the days when I would cry as I drove a screaming E home after dropping F at school. I remember the days when I just wanted to curl up in bed and not confront the fear of having to anticipate E’s crying (in crescendo, no less) that comes on cue whenever I loosen the sling to pop him into that damned car seat. It is easier these days, having had almost two years of practice in juggling two on school, errand, clinic and fun-time runs. But when I was in the midst of all that and taking deep breaths to dive headfirst into my fears and worries that accompany what others might think is a ‘damn simple school run, liddat also cannot handle ah’, all I could think of was how I failed whenever I broke down or leapt into wishful thinking that help would come in some form. Or when I got the kids all drenched because I couldn’t work out whether it was best to get kid number 1 out of the car first or kid number 2 into the sling before anything else. Many times, I felt defeated by what I thought must be the easiest thing to do (heck, I don’t even have to do that on public transport, I have a car, for crying out loud), and I didn’t dare tell anyone I was feeling that way about a simple school run for fear of wagging tongues and pointy fingers. And shame.
This applies to everything else. I just don’t give myself credit where it is due. I don’t pat myself on the back when an awfully long day is over even though I managed to feed the kids and keep them alive. When people tell me I made a great meal or baked some lovely cookies, I’d say thank you out of courtesy and silently wonder, “Really? I think they are just being polite and they didn’t want to hurt my feelings.” When others marvel at how I manage to take care of the kids and cook and bake, I’d be thick with guilt and shame and say, “I don’t need to go to work and I have help with cleaning and chores, so that leaves me time and energy to do the rest…” Because, somewhere in my pea-sized brain, I have come to think that all I do is the bare minimum that is required of human civilisation, that even if I succeed, it’s luck, that everyone can do what I do and they are stronger, better and just so damn awesome while I have been reduced to some kind of a weak sauce because I can’t drive my screaming newborn around without feeling anxious, for instance.
Then, M said, “You are not weak. Not at all. You are one of the strongest people that I know, and I am not saying this because you are my wife. Remember the day when we were at the Uncle Ringo fair, and Faith suddenly walked straight up to the airplane ride and said that she wanted to go on it, much to our surprise? Remember how she sat there so stiffly and quietly, with her lips steeled in absolute determination and her eyes brimming with fear? We all know that she has always been terrified of rides like this, and yet, when you asked her why she went on the ride without any of us prompting her to go on it, she said, “I was trying not to be scared, Mama. I really try.” She fought a battle that would seem insignificant to others, but she is far from weak. So what if you have help with chores and cleaning? You don’t have to put meals on the table but you do it regardless. You are talented and you bake the most beautiful things, and that has nothing to do with whether you have help or not. You can leave the children and go out and have fun but you refuse to because you want to be the one taking care of them even if it overwhelms you. You could have forced me to squeeze in school runs or made our parents do it and caused them much inconvenience but you stepped up and now you drive yourself and the kids around just so you become independent. No one is stronger than another, dear. The strongest person is one who fights a battle he or she fears most, however trivial it may seem to others, and that is what truly matters. That is why you are one of the strongest people I know. Believe me.”
I was in tears by the time he finished. I knew he was right. Any protests that I had worked out in my mind before he started talking fell silent and I was completely thoughtful after that. In the evening breeze, I sat by the pool and recalled countless things that I admired other people for, and realised that I too have overcome similar challenges. For the first time in many, many years, I see myself in new light. I have been giving myself so much pressure, and thinking that everything I am doing is a norm that I have taught myself, unknowingly, to forget that I have actually done some pretty wonderful deeds in my life, that I am more than decent. That I am more than what I think I am, that I am not that weak a person or that lousy a mother. Perhaps, this seems pretty obvious to most people, the fact that one is still getting up to do something that trips her in the smallest or biggest of ways is an effort that is worth applauding. It is such an astounding revelation to me and today, I woke up feeling better and calmer than I have in a painfully long time. And all I had to do was to remember the look on my four-year-old’s face and her white knuckles as she held on tightly to that ride at Uncle Ringo’s. She tried…I try.
That courage, and this lesson…I will never forget.