Monday, May 15, 2017

Happy Mother's Day, Ma

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at how thoughts of my mama creep into my head so frequently. I'd be washing the rice before cooking it when I'd hear her telling me to pick up every last grain that have flowed out with the rinse water and landed in the sink. I'd pick up all the grains and put them back into the pot so I won't offend Bambarayon, the rice spirit—like my mother had often told me when I was a kid.

As I walk around in the backyard, I wonder what she'd think of my plants: the less-than-happy long beans, the distorted pumpkins and the thriving passion fruit vine that has produced only one fruit. I can almost hear her chuckling at my effort to grow my own vegetables.
Long ago... visiting Mama in the kampung

She had been a good gardener and was so restless whenever she stayed at any of her grown kids' houses that she'd dig their yards and started a flourishing garden. She was especially proud of the ginger she planted in Sipitang and her maize plants were the envy of my brother's neighbours in Labuan.

"I'll plant some corn for you," she said to me one day while she was waiting for someone to take her to another sibling's house.

"No, thank you," I told her. I had paid for grass to be planted when we first moved in and we had left the backyard bare: a space for the kids to play. But she insisted and she told me again about her huge corn garden at my brother's place. Then she took the hoe and began to work. I could only look on helplessly as she dug holes all over my beautiful lawn. Even the space under my clotheslines wasn't spared. I'm sure doing all the digging (and saving me the labour) must have given her great satisfaction. “You only need to drop the seeds into the holes,” she said as she wiped the sweat off her face.
Mama and her ginger plants 
I didn't have the heart to tell her that all her effort had been in vain. I didn't plant the corn. I let my precious grass grow back. And I haven’t forgiven myself for not accepting Mama’s gift.

Mama of the good old days would have made good company for the grandkid who talks nonstop and is always up to something. I can imagine them having fun behind my back... like Mama used to do with Sonny when he was a kid. You see, before her stroke she was a frequent visitor. She refused to stay longer than a couple of nights because she was concerned for her dogs which had no one to feed them when she wasn't home.

Sonny enjoyed her visits and would get upset when I was impatient with her. She'd sleep in Sonny's room and I'm sure she told him lots of stories. Sonny said sometimes she was already asleep before her story ended... exactly how it was when I was a kid myself.

There was a time she showed Sonny how to roll some sigup in a kirai and then smoke it. After a few puffs, Sonny said they heard me coming back from work. Oh no! The monster was home! She snatched the tobacco roll from Sonny, flushed it down the toilet, fanned the smoke away and popped a mint into his mouth. I didn't know any of this happened until several years later. I'm glad that Mama left some good memories for Sonny to treasure.

My childhood memories of her are a mixture of good and painful. As I grew up I tended to assume the adult role and felt protective towards her, telling her to do this or that and warning her not to do certain things. When it rained heavily and strong winds blew, I thought of her all alone in her kampung house and hoped she was safe and dry. When I had eaten so much that I could eat no more, I hoped she had enough to fill her tummy.

Growing up ‘poor’ taught me perseverance and forced me to pick up living skills.  Having Mama for my mother taught me so much more: independence, strength, diligence, courage etc, and that women are not inferior to men.

She was not one who kept her thoughts to herself and would speak her mind if she found it ‘necessary’. I’ll never forget the day I became a mother myself. She came to visit the new baby and me at the hospital.

“What is that?” she pointed at a rolled-up cloth nappy. (It was before the days of disposable nappies.) It was Dottie’s and stained with meconium, the greasy-looking, dark green, first stool of an infant. And Mr Hubby had refused to wash it. Mama wasn’t amused at all.

“Tell him to have no more babies!” she said.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Take a Picture!

When I'm dead and gone and if my kids and their kids look through my collection of family photos they'll find hardly any picture with me in it. It will look as if I've been the absent mother or I've never been a part of their lives.

The truth is I've always been behind the camera making records of not only their milestones, and the important events in their lives but even the non-events which all eventually became memories... captured on film. And the sad truth is, as much as I had wanted to be in the pictures, nobody offered to take my place behind the lens. I remember having to set the timer in order to take a picture with Dottie and Sonny when they were little.

Old-style selfie

By then I had stopped asking Mr Hubby to take pictures of me with the kids. I knew what his response would be: I don't know how (to use the camera). It had always been like that... I don't know how.

Picture is blur and my head is missing!

On one occasion we were on a trip to the mountain. After taking several shots of the kids together with Mr Hubby, I handed the camera to him telling him to just point and shoot... no fiddling with anything, I said. The camera was ready: light, speed, distance. All he needed to do was hold the camera steady, look through the view-finder and gently press the shutter button. It was foolproof. Even a child could do it if he was strong enough to carry my ancient, 'heavy' camera. I'd have a good shot of me with the kids to keep in the family album, I thought.

Alas, it was not to be.

I knew what he had done only when I got the prints from the kedai gambar. He had turned the lens all the way until the kids and I were zoomed out into the distance. We appeared hardly bigger than ants. Dear reader, I had wanted a picture showing me with the kids against a background of mountains and greenery, not a picture of nature with tiny ants crawling on a rock. I was sad, disappointed and upset but there was nothing I could do except bit my tongue.

What can I say?

On another trip when the kids were a few years older, I asked him to take a picture of us and gave him the camera after making all the necessary adjustments. He took a picture and successfully put us into one corner while the rest of the photo was a whole jungle.

Now there's a grandkid, history is repeating itself. I've taken countless pictures of Mr Hubby with the kid, sometimes with him in the know, other times he was unaware and a few times he purposely planted himself in the pictures. But never once did he offer to take a picture of me with the kid or even thought that maybe I'd like to have a picture taken with my grand-daughter.

At the Zoo during a visit to KL

Sonny is one-year old

On the way to the Mountain

At Kinabalu Park

So the child will grow up to discover that while KungKung has been a big part of her childhood, Nana must have gone gallivanting, doing her own thing and didn't care enough to make time for her. Now that he owns a phone camera, it saddens me that I have to say: "Take a picture!" whenever there are 'picture-worthy' moments. And when he does take any photos, naturally, I'm never in them.

Apparently, many mothers are just like me... according to this article I read recently (which led me to think about my own situation.) They're missing from their kids' photos because of their husbands' apathy. So if you are a father and are guilty of not taking pictures of your wife with her kids, do something!