Mums rule the world

Grandma & my cousins

BOTH my kids are sick today, so I’ve become a stay-at-home mum … without any help. I’ve been cleaning, cooking and washing, making sure the kids are coping as well as possible with their diarrhoea and other ailments.

While doing all these, I thought of my mum, and my grandma Looi Yuen, who looked after me for over 30 years, from the day I was born until she passed away in 2008. These women have played the most important roles in my life. I salute them, and want to thank them from the bottom of my heart.

We should celebrate our mothers every day of the year because theirs is the toughest job in the world – with no leave, no pay, often no recognition and certainly no promotion.

Those of us who work may think that mums who stay at home have it easier. But on occasions like today, when I’m doing precisely that, I realise that looking after kids full-time is no walk in the park.

Young children require constant attention, and whole days can pass just tending to their needs. Don’t ask me what was in the papers today because I’ve had no time to read it, but yesterday, American actress-singer Hillary Duff, who has a 13-month-old son, spoke the truth when she said: “It’s the hardest, best thing ever.”

Being at home all day with my kids made me think, how did my grandma do it – looking after the three of us plus cleaning (and her house was dust-free!), doing the laundry for six, cooking three meals a day, gardening (she used to sell sugarcane and flowers at the market) and so on. And my mum, who was a tailor, managed over 30 staff members, cut and sewed, met clients, cooked three meals a day, and took care of my three older siblings. Mum, you are a super woman!

Grandma, who passed away five years ago, was the one who taught me to be tough yet humble and forgiving. She also taught me to be independent and to believe in myself. While she was very strict, she also allowed me to explore the world as I got older.

She knew all my friends and would let me go out with them, as long as I told her exactly where I was going, promised to behave, and gave her a rough idea as to when I would be back home. I appreciated her trust and didn’t betray it. I didn’t do stupid things when I was out. If I was going to be really late, she would let me stay over with a girlfriend, as long as I called her to let her know.

Often, I would take a minibus at night to Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur, to pick up silver accessories to sell in school, and grandma was cool about it. She never asked too much or distrusted me. She always reminded me to “never compare yourself with anyone, do what you want to do and do the best you can”. Yes, Poh Poh, I will always remember what you taught me. Thank you for your love … I miss you always.

I didn’t have as much freedom with my parents. But I guess, as parents, they were just concerned about my safety.

My kids are still too young to go out on their own, but I know once they reach a certain age, they are going to ask to do so. Children these days seem to do everything we did, and more, but at a much younger age. I hope that I will be able to strike the right balance with them as my grandma did with me – to give them the space to discover things and perhaps even make small mistakes, so they can learn from them, but to be here for them should they ever need me.

Media members have asked me: how do I juggle work and family? This question always makes me pause to think about how I do it. What I’m doing is not out of the ordinary. My grandma did it, and my mum did it, so why not me? To be honest, I think I’m luckier than them because I have good helpers/nannies and a very good friend, Stephanie, who always comes to stay with my children when I am travelling, or too busy.

In a sense, too, I’m luckier than other women who are employed, because I have my own business which I run with Dirk, my husband. And we can, if necessary, bring our children to work and let them be close to us. It’s a good experience for them to see what we do. It’s like history repeating itself, because that was how I grew up too. I didn’t have dolls; my toys were pins and needles, fabric trims, buttons, thread, scissors, cutters and machines. The highlight of our day was seeing buyers. I learnt a lot from my early exposure to work, and I wish the same for my kids.

I have also made some changes to my working life to accommodate my family. I try not to work on Sundays any more so I can spend quality time with my three young ones. I enjoy the balance I have of doing something that uses my creativity and lets me interact with people, and spending time with my husband and children.

At the end of the day, I think all mums – be they full-time or working mums – are amazing. I salute all of you. The same goes for dads who take their parenting role seriously. Bringing up children, as anyone who’s done it will know, is not easy. But all our troubles, anxieties and stress just melt away when we see our children grow up with such love and laughter.

Mel’s Place is a fortnightly column by Melinda Looi for The Star newspaper.

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