The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

My Mum

on June 2, 2014

I’ve had a few people comment that I talk about my Dad, Mr Li a lot but rarely about my Mum.

You’ve probably gathered that my Mum is not my Dad, Mr Li’s wife. My definition of Mum embodies the woman who raised me. The woman who gave birth to me is often referred to as my ‘real Mum’ but I prefer to simply call her Mother.

It’s not a complicated situation thinking about it now. In those days, it wasn’t unusual for the children of migrant parents to be looked after by other family members whilst both parents worked long unsociable hours every day of the week. I don’t recall a time before living with my Mum because I was that young and to me it’s very natural to call her Mum and I don’t even remember when I started that either.

My Mum’s got rosy cheeks and a smile for everyone in lieu of being able to speak English. The conversations she has with Husband usually starts with his name in English followed by the rest in Chinese and gesturing to whatever it’s about which is usually food or having a cuppa tea.

When in the company of #1 and 2, she’s very content to be sat next to them. Holding a small chubby hand whilst they sit and watch television. Unlike my Dad, Mr Li, she offers rather more practical advice. What do I mean by this? Well, my Dad, Mr Li is rather a cautious man and terribly fearful of children hurting themselves. When I told him #3 had just started crawling, he said ‘Make sure her arms don’t get too tired and she headbutts the floor.’ Good point really when we have marble floors here and the same advice he doled out for #1 and 2. My Mum would never say that though. She would say much more helpful things like if they were crying then do they need a nap, feeding, nappy change or just to be taken somewhere quiet.

I like to cook Chinese food exactly the same way my Mum has taught me. She is the best cook I know and when I was little there was hardly anything I didn’t like that she made. All Chinese cooking should be simple with few ingredients and fanfare. From steamed fish to fresh lobster with ginger and onion. To sweet and sour pork (not your battered variety) to chips and gravy. My beginnings in being able to cook and how the food should look stems from an education in our takeaway. After all, if she was rubbish, how would the business thrive?

My Mum’s mellowed out a lot in her retirement age. She once had a fearsome reputation I’ve heard my cousins say. But I see it as drive and ambition born out of necessity and having lived through a war that brought poverty and hunger. My Mum was obviously aware of this reputation herself as she referred to it a few times when I was growing up. Not in great detail because that’s not the style of her generation really. But enough times for me to realise the great strength of character that was needed during those times.

My Mum was widowed at a young age, a few years older than I am now. It was just before I arrived up North in the late 70s. She owned a restaurant at that time. Nothing exceptional about that in today’s age. But at the time it was. Not only was she on her own but she was a woman (and one who didn’t speak English at that) and it wasn’t expected or conceived of that she would choose to keep a business going by herself. She told me that it was her intention to prove everyone wrong. I can only imagine what she could have achieved in a different era, different circumstances.

Faced with the times (refer to the television shows Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes for a refresher) and running her own business, it wouldn’t have worked if she didn’t have a steely backbone would it? The life I lived as a child was built on what she achieved then.

It’s a shame I never thought more about my Mum’s achievements when I was younger and only really appreciating how extraordinary it was for her to be running her own business when I was older. After the restaurant, she opened a takeaway. She retired early when I was ten years old, putting family first and supported my cousin in her business ventures instead. I think if she had carried on some more years for herself then that certainly would have changed many other things too.

But in the event of her early retirement, it meant that she and I were home together a lot more. It was at this time that I no longer lived with my Dad, Mr Li and I’m glad there was my Mum there. We were never a family where decisions, even ones as big as who would you like to live with were ever openly discussed. Things happened, decisions made almost subliminally. Or perhaps discussions did take place and I just wasn’t privy to them. Who knows. I suppose that makes me much more conscious of being more open as a family now.

I love my Mum and I know my Mum loves me. But when you feel like you’re borrowing someone else’s Mum, it’s very different to knowing you have your Mum in your own right. It’s very difficult being corrected that you should call your Mum, your Aunt (which she is) and never quite feel you have been given full rights to her. I understand why I was corrected, the implication to others that I seemingly didn’t know who my ‘Mother’ was and the embarrassment of pairing my Dad, Mr Li and my Mum together when clearly they are not.

To me, my Mum and Dad are the people who have taken on these roles for the long haul. Like yours have with you. How awful to make a small child feel ashamed of this, whether intentional or not. My Mum never corrected me at all, ever. That says enough.

Quite often we’d be out and about and meet some random person she knew in the community who would ask if I was her youngest and she would say yes and answer questions accordingly about what was I up to and what were my prospects and whether it looked likely I would marry one day. All the while whilst I was stood there (and being perfectly capable of speaking Chinese at that). And then there are the people who were kind enough to refer to her as my Mum when they were speaking to me and that made a lot of difference too.

In the midst of the love I have for my Mum, there is also gratitude. Stripping aside the parts that weren’t always easy, I’m thankful that I was taken up North by my cousins for a short holiday to see my Dad, Mr Li and that I got to stay, because who knows what alternative life I would have had.

When I was younger, when my world was much smaller, for a while I didn’t know many people who didn’t live with conventional family setups. But as your world expands and as times change and you meet many other people with far more diverse backgrounds than yourself and you talk about things more then you realise that actually what you have is not as different as you first thought.

When I got married I was quite adamant that my Mum would sit on the top table with us and that she also signed the marriage certificate too as one of my witnesses. Of course, it caused a hoo ha but this was more important to me than anything else that a wedding brings and made me all the more happier for it. (Yes, it was Big Brother Li and Our Jenn who smoothed things over like older siblings do). It was the best way I could say to my Mum that this is who she is to me, the importance of her place in my heart and in my life and it was never going to be any other way.

You may be curious to know about my relationship with my Mother. I’m happy to say that she’s still with my Dad, Mr Li. #1, 2 and 3 have two Por Pors which makes them very lucky. She and I are the same as we always have been.

I’m of the strongest belief that you don’t have to have given birth to someone to love them as your own. If you open your heart, you can take someone in. Thank goodness, my Mum had that belief too.

It’s my Mum’s birthday today. Please wish her a very Happy Birthday with me. I’m sure the many grandchildren and great grandchildren she is blessed with will make it a very happy day. I miss her and I can’t wait, I really can’t wait to see her later this year and introduce #3 and have #1 and 2 get reacquainted with her again.

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