May 10, 2009
THE EX-PAT FILES
United by 'mother tongue'
By Linda Collins
It's Mother's Day when, if you are an expat mum, it is likely that your well-meaning offspring serves you an inedible breakfast that you will remember with a fondness far more than you have had for any fine-dining experience.
I don't know what the custom is for Singaporean mothers on the second Sunday of May, but in New Zealand where I hail from, children are expected to give mum the chance to have a lie-in, and make her breakfast-in-bed.
Often, a mum will receive cards, flowers, chocolates or a small gift as well.
This pampering is all well and good, but the reality for Mommie Dearest in the maid-free West is that she isn't known as a domestic goddess for nothing.
By the end of the day, the kids are tired, and the novelty of all that Mother Care has worn off. Suddenly, the family realises that besides nagging them to do their homework and exclaiming 'You're wearing what!', mum is also responsible for doing the boring tidying-up and other household chores.
As for the wise mum, she knows that it is the thought that counts, and she counted that thought - whether breakfast-in-bed, flowers or chocolate - many hours ago. She caves in and organises dinner, feeds the goldfish, stacks the washing- up, ensures everyone has cleaned their teeth, and at some point screams that obligatory line: 'Go ask your father!'
Once the kids are in bed, she might indulge in a tradition mums keep mum about: Sipping a drink of gin, perversely called Mother's Ruin in earlier times. After the rigours of Mother's Day, believe me, for some it can be Mother's Salvation.
In Singapore, our family household observes the Mother's Day ritual of a child preparing breakfast, although the evening madness of chores is avoided thanks to our Filipino maid, herself a mother who works to put her son through school. If she were back home, he would be spoiling her with a special meal, I'm sure.
This thought of mothers who are far away from their children will help make my sore head bearable when I am awoken at 5 this morning by the bedroom door slamming open and my excited daughter bursting in with a cry of 'Ta dah!'.
Yes, I would have loved a sleep-in, but this day is really about the family showing their love for you. So I struggle to semi-consciousness as my dear child bears a tray containing a linen napkin placed neatly in a corner, and a flower in a vase.
Much thought has gone into the exact placement of each item, so although my brain feels like concrete, an in-built Mum survival mechanism kicks in so that I make the appropriate 'ooh' and 'aah' noises.
These noises of appreciation are very important to a child, as every mum knows. It is even better if you can eventually wake up enough to speak in coherent sentences such as 'Oh, a flower, how beautiful', but the era of supermums is well over and no one expects you to stuff a mushroom these days.
Or was that Superwoman in the 1970s? Never mind, it is 5am and you haven't a brain cell to spare, yet you face a vital mummy test: Showing appreciation for the food.
In the early years, mum was served cereal in a bowl - evolving from Fruit Loops to Coco Pops. Last year's breakfast was a triumph: Toast plastered with vegemite, lukewarm tea and a Mars bar. All served with a huge dollop of love, of course.
This year, darling daughter has learnt to fry eggs, although turning on the gas and lighting the stove element remain a mystery to her. But that is what dads are for. A groaning, moaning creature that is my husband is led off to the kitchen.
Then, once the meal has been eaten, or tactfully tipped into the bin once the child is out of sight, we phone the family's mothers and grandmothers who are overseas.
New Zealand is five hours ahead of Singapore in time difference, so you tend to catch your fellow multi-tasking marvels just as they are looking forward to the Mother's Ruin stage of the day.
There is a quick exchange of mother-code to establish the degree of desperation. Phrases such as 'I've always wanted a chainsaw, Timmy is so thoughtful', or 'The chocolates were lovely, though the grandchildren ate them all', are key indicators.
After these calls, our small expat family might join the throngs of Singaporeans doing the sensible thing and taking mum out to lunch or dinner, rather than serving her a strange breakfast at some unearthly hour.
Or I might go for one of the many spa treatments Singapore offers, although the advertisement for one I saw the other day saying 'Treat your mum to an anti-ageing massage' perhaps lacked the tact factor.
It also, mercifully, lacked the quirk factor - unlike a New Zealand ad I Googled, offering mum a chance to take part in a 'tarts for the arts' day, where mothers and daughters could bond at a champagne casino lunch in support of artists.
There are many ways of marking Mother's Day, but one thing is for sure - having a special day for the world's mums makes us one big family, whatever the country.
The writer is a copy editor with the Life! desk of The Straits Times. She has lived here for more than 15 years.