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Bertha HarianBertha Harian


About a mother

My mother turned 70 in February although you wouldn’t be able to tell her age if you meet her. If she’s captured on one of those websites which gives her age, it will probably say 50 – which is what I am. I weep every time I get mistaken for her sister or her friend.

When I grow old(er), I want to be like my mother, an active, healthy and I believe, happy, septuagenarian.

People have described my mother as quite a character. I agree.

This is my mother:

She zips around in her, or rather, my car, but only when I am with her or if she needs to ferry me or her grandson somewhere. (I don’t drive). Most times, she drives to a “cheap’’ carpark to take the bus or MRT. Saves on ERP and parking fees, she says.

She takes care of her appearance with her round of mani/pedi, exercise, facials, face and eyebrow threading, at neighbourhood places which she deems cheap and good. She colours her hair only when I do so she can “steal’’ some dye from my hair-stylist for free.

She needs so little dye. I, on the other hand, am a full head of grey.

She is a fantastic cook (she’s a nonya) and sometimes bakes cookies and mooncakes for “extra’’ money. Now, this is NOT because her children do not give her a big enough allowance. They do, but she says nothing beats making her own money. I end up being her kitchen helper.

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She’s a frugal shopper who will make a trip to Shengsiong supermarket to demand a 50 cent refund for something she was over-charged. When she bargains, I tell her I will go walk around for half an hour and so and meet her back at the shop. I’m usually too early because the price negotiations wouldn’t have ended. She is so happy with her Pioneer Generation card that she flashes it everywhere she goes, asking if it entitled her to any discount. Times like these, I look away.

Despite her frugal nature, she presses me to buy expensive, designer clothes that I don’t want – because she thinks I need to splurge on myself. “Girl, you like, just buy,’’ she tells me like it’s the easiest thing in the world for me to reach for my wallet and pull out dollar notes. If I decline, she goes: “Mommy will buy for you’’, forgetting that her money is mine.

When she got twinges in her hip which made it difficult for her to shop for three households (hers, mine and my brother’s) and to do her own household chores, I got her a live-in maid to help. But she complains about the invasion of her privacy because she now locks her bedroom door when she sleeps. She thinks it will be better to move into an old folks home, forgetting she will get even less privacy there. (My brother and I know she doesn’t mean it…)

She did not have much of an education but she is an avid newspaper reader. She would call me or my brother whenever she comes across words and phrases she doesn’t understand. I bought her an electronic dictionary when she started reading my book, Troublemaker. She seldom uses it because it is so difficult to type the word and “telephoning’’ is faster, she says. It was she who taught me my ABCs and 123s. She caned me when I attached two zeros to make an 8. Yup, I still remember my kindergarten days.

Now in the twilight of her years, I want her to be a tai tai, to have lunches with her church kakis and to play mahjong. She is beginning to do so. I want her to be clear of any worries and never have to re-live those days when money was short and life was tough. She deserves as much rest and happiness as possible because she has spent her whole life looking after her younger brothers and then, looking after her own children.

I am still “girl’’ to my mother and she still tells me to be careful while crossing the road. But I wouldn’t exchange her for anybody else in the world. Who else will drive me around, fill my fridge, buy me health supplements, brew me yucky medicinal soups, sew me my pjyamas and become, in effect, my all-round concierge? Who else will keep calling me to remind me of things I have to do myself – because it is impossible for her to forge my signature?  Who else will be my best friend, scold me, laugh with me and weep with me? Who else knows everything about me?

Okay, I take back the last line.

She is NOT internet-savvy and so she doesn’t quite know what I do online. She knows that I “write’’ and worries incessantly that my writing will get me into “trouble’’. I will probably get into trouble, with her (!), for writing this. But I think I might just escape the sharp end of her tongue. You see, I am going away for a two-week holiday with my mother tomorrow so, hopefully, no one gets to tell her about it before we get out of Singapore.

It’s my mother’s day present to her.

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I love you mom.

PS. Can those of you who know mom PLEASE SHUT UP?

Written By

An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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