To mumsy, with love


Next week Thursday is Valentine’s Day. Incidentally the 83rd birthday of a very special woman. Allow me to tell you a bit about her.

I look back and remember a bitter cold day in December. Sitting in silence in the passenger seat of the car after an hour’s journey, my spine tingly and my stomach knotted. “Relax,” my other half said, back then my boyfriend, covering my icy fingers tightly clasped on my lap with a warm hand, “You know she will like you!” Heartened by his cheeriness, taking a deep breath and stepping out of the car, braving a little more than just the winter chill… Deep down inside, hoping and praying he would be right…

There in front of us, she stood, beaming with the most heart-warming smile “Oh come in, come in!” she greeted us, cheerily. As she enveloped me from the cold into the warmth of her embrace, I knew I had arrived. It was 25 December 2001 and I had met my mother.

Yes, you read it right: A woman who does not look or sound anything like me, a woman who is from a different part of the world, a woman who is not even of the same colour or race, yet a woman I am blessed to have as my mother-in-in law and proud to call my mother.

18 years on, she is not just my ‘adopted’ mother, for want of a better expression, but also still an inspiration in more ways than one. In a world where mothers-in-law are still considered to be the bane of young women’s being, interfering and inconveniencing at every opportunity; my mother-in-law is a rare gem – mother, confidante, guiding star all rolled into one amazing woman.

The first few months after I moved to the city that has since become home, I remember feeling lonely, having left behind many close friends in London. Most weekends were tediously the same – a spot of shopping at the mall followed by a coffee at Starbucks. On those long weekends she would call, cheery, as always. “Come on, get ready; we are going shopping,” she would say. Shopping with a mother-in-law, what many women would consider an inconvenience at worst, a challenge at best, for me became weekly adventures I looked forward to, where we would discover new shops, spend hours in bookstores and while away the hours with idle chit chat. It was during those weekends, I discovered a dear friend in my mother-in-law.

I still vividly recall a friend’s reaction, a few years ago; when she heard that my mother-in-law had been staying with us for three months. “How are you coping, all the cooking, cleaning, being kept on your toes all the time?” she shrieked. Little did she know that, contrary to being kept on my toes, I was actually in seventh heaven, sent off to work with a packed lunch every day by my mother-in-law and welcomed home after a long day to “Welcome home, my dear, what you want to have tonight, ogbono or egusi?” Bored of being home on her own all day, she would also do the laundry and the ironing. When Hubby or I tried to dissuade her from taking on so much, she would say, “You are working hard; the last thing you need is to come home tired and have to cook and clean. While I am here, I might as well look after you.”

And look after us, look after me is what she has done since the day she has enveloped me in the maternal warmth of her embrace.As an only child, often pushed to and beyond her limits to achieve, I have always had a tricky relationship with my mother. Like other women of her generation, she believed that a too hearty acknowledgement of a child’s success would consequently lead to raising a spoiled child; a feeble pat on the back with a side serving of a kick up the back side to work even harder was seen as the recipe for raising hard-working children. In my case, it led to an individual who was driven to succeed simply to hear those words she had never heard much of: “I am so proud of you.”

Every single one of my mother-in-law’s six children, on the other hand, exuded with an energy alien to me – that of confidence and self-esteem. With my mother-in-law’s patience, my ‘Oh I am sure I can’ attitude slowly but surely transformed into ‘Yes, I can.’ Before long, I was exuding with the same confidence I had once so envied. Having come from a household where even the greatest victories were praised in muted tones followed by “You could’ve done better”, I had arrived into a house, where every baby step to success was celebrated with a loud “Well done! Next time you’ll do even better!”

Loud appraisals did not mean failures went unnoticed, either. I have seen her pull aside many, having a quiet heart-to-heart on the errors of their ways. What sets her above any other mother I know is the kindness of heart with which she makes her counsel heard.

She is the kind of mother who is the first to give one a helping hand when they are down, rather than tell them they shouldn’t have fallen down in the first place. With her, it is never “What have you gone and done?” It is always “Okay, so what are we going to do to get this sorted?”

Not surprisingly, over the last seven years, it has not been in my own mother’s but my mother-in-law’s arms I have sought solace and guidance. As a child, I would often observe my mum’s obsessive worry and perfectionism and find myself hoping I would not one day become my mother. During my twenties, I realised that, unwittingly, I had indeed become my mother: Worrier, workaholic, perfectionist…

Having made it through the trials of twenties into the confidence of thirties and the contentment of forties finally, I realise just how much of my self-esteem I owe my mother-in-law. Still work in progress, by the time I reach my fifties, I am hoping to become my mother-in-law in the next ten years. Positive, gentle and wise…

Then I find myself hoping and praying once again, this time for a totally different reason than the one I had, stepping out of a car into the winter chill, spine tingly and stomach knotted. This time I hope and pray, when they arrive, my children will be blessed by the presence of a most wonderful woman I am fortunate to call my mother-in-law, proud to call my mother and will playfully refer to as ‘Mummy Valentine’ come next Thursday.

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Valentines Day
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