A column in the South China Morning Post on Sunday jolted me into acknowledging something I was careless about on Mother’s Day.
The column was about the “other mothers” in our homes inHong Kong– the helpers who enable us to go out and work and, if we are honest, are the primary carers for our children. On Sunday, my helper wished me Happy Mother’s Day and I cursorily wished her back.
The reason is because I do not yet feel deserving of the special devotion that this special day evokes. In my mind, it remains a day for me to wish my mother but not to be wished myself. In my household, a Parent’s Day would be more appropriate because, V really does share the parenting equally. He has shirked somewhat with Mimi but with Benji he was hands on from the word go. However, over the years, I think our contributions to both children will even out as parents – and I mean in the slog work of parenting, such as waking up at night, washing bums, going to doctor’s appointments and PTA meetings, not just bringing home the bacon. My special contribution as mother was in pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding; it will be over in half a year and for it, I expect payment and gratitude from my husband, none from my children.
However, more than a Parent’s Day, I think we need a Helper’s Day. I needed to wish and thank my helper not so much because she is a mother (of her own biological kids) too but because she is a mother to my children. It is her fortitude, patience, gentleness, dependability and love that lets me leave for work secure that my children are safe and well cared for, even when they are unwell. There are many families in Hong Kong that install cameras to check on their helpers. I do not have one because I do not feel the need.
It is not that I trust her completely. I trust noone completely.
But I am reasonably sure of her, more than I would be of my own relatives’ abilities to look after my child. She has more reserves of strength, physical and mental, to deal with my babies than I do. In her world, such ideas as sleep training and cry-it-out are novelties. Waking up at night to feed a baby well beyond a year is normal. When I am losing it in frustration, she laughs and says “that’s how babies are”. This could be because she is used to a harder life or because she doesn’t have a choice or just because she is a stronger person. Probably all three. Whatever it is, I am grateful.
I can see her influence on my son just as surely as I can see my own. Every new word he says is precious, and it’s no surprise that his latest was the Tagalog word for chicken.
I have always found the custom of calling one’s mother-in-law, “ma” or “mum” or “mama” or “amma” unnatural. I would frankly be upset if my children called someone else Ma. But if they called my helper that, I could accept it. I would feel more awkward than upset. She is, after all, their other mother.