Today is my mother’s 60th birthday. She is still as beautiful as ever and actually looked 10 years younger for her age.
I have always been proud of my mother (and my father too, of course. But this post is not about him). Every time she came to school to take my report card from my class teacher, I would smile to the ear when my friends said “Cantiklah mak Afiza.” I always like walking around with her because I know that I have a beautiful mother. Her skin is very fair that people always thought that she was Chinese when she was younger and did not yet put on the hijab. When I walked around with my mother around town, some Chinese would stop us and talk to my mother in Chinese until my mother had to tell them that she was actually a Malay. All my relatives from my mother’s side of the family look like Chinese. We always wondered whether we have some Chinese ancestry on my mother’s side. My maternal great grandparents came from Indonesia to teach the religion in the early 1900s, and thus we are not entirely sure about the details of our ancestry from Indonesia.
(However, all five of us took after my father’s side of the family. We have some diluted Indian ancestry on that side. All of us have really tanned skin. Some of my mother’s friends might find it surprising that all my mother’s children look so different from her. None of us is as beautiful as my mother.)
My mother must feel some despair at times that all of us took up after our father so much more than hers. We all look like our father. We behave like him (because he is dominant in the house). We are not as concerned with convention and tradition as her (because our father encourage that tendency in us).
My mother is really very conventional. She feels anxious at everything that doesn’t follow the norms.
When I was a HO and had done the unthinkable by writing disparagingly about one particular department in my hospital (and then it went viral accidentally), my mother was worried sick.
“Kak Ngah…nanti kak ngah yang susah kak ngah buat macam ni. Diorang saman macam mana? Nanti posting-posting kat department lain macam mana? Habislah kakngah kena target. Kak Ngah sabar sajalah. Tak payah lah nak tulis macam-macam.”
I just shrugged my shoulder and looked at my father. My father said “Tak apa. Kita pun boleh saman balik. Biarlah, dia tulis benda betul. Tok sah takut. Yang penting kita buat tanggungjawab kita, pi kerja macam biasa. Kita kerja untuk pesakit sebab kita dibayar gaji. Bukan kerja untuk boss. Tengok apa depa boleh buat pun” My father said. I immediately felt relieved that my father understood and supported me. You see, I can always count on my father for that sort of support…support against unjust authority is sure to gain his approval and he is sure to back you up. It’s been that way since I was a little girl. I had very little fear after my father said that.
At the end of the day, nothing bad happened to me because of what I had written. I was never extended; never targeted in any way; in fact my life as a HO went even more smoothly afterwards. I refused to take down the post even when I was advised to do so by my fellow HOs because I refused to be a coward. I had written what I felt was the truth and I’ll be damned before I took it down as though what I had written was false! The fact that it went viral spoke volume of how much the post resonated with the rest of other housemen. My father would not allow me to take down the post, anyway! He told me clearly that should anything unjust happen to me, I should fight and not have any fear because if push comes to shove, I could just quit and work with him or do other things. My father memang semangat bab nak melawan orang atasan ni. (He had enough experience of it in PDRM. He took an early pension out of the government when he was 40 years old and it was the best decision he ever made. He himself is not a ‘yes boss’ man)
That’s not to say that my mother is not supportive of me. She just thinks differently. But no matter how different she thinks and feels about stuff, when all chips are down, her support is ever constant, ever remaining. When I was a HO, I never went to work hungry. Even when I went out for morning rounds at 5.00 am, I would still go to work with my stomach full. My mother would wake up earlier than me to prepare breakfast for me. When I was oncall, she would come to the hospital, bringing me food. When other HOs had lost weight during the earlier part of their housemanship, I instead had gained 5 kgs. Hahha. Before I bought my car, she was the one who acted as my chauffeur day in and day out. She woke up and went to sleep at about the same time I did. She took care of me even better than when I was in secondary school because she had already stopped working by the time I started my housemanship and she had all the free time in the world to mother me properly. I don’t know how other people did their housemanship without a mother around. My mother was an immense source of support for me.
No matter how traditional and conventional she is, she would give it up when I insist. When I was 12 year old, we wanted to do a kenduri khatam Quran for me. My mother planned to serve pulut kuning and air sirap and some other side dishes for the kenduri at the local surau where I learned my Quranic recitation. But I was not appreciative of her plan. I told her “Angah tak mau pulut kuning dengan air sirap. Tak sedap. Angah nak bihun goreng dengan air Coke.” I told her in my characteristically opinionated manner. As usual, my conventional mother was not pleased that I wanted something different than the usual dishes served for such momentous occasion. But at that time, I was thinking that: “This is MY majlis khatam Quran. I want to eat what I like. I don’t like gulai and pulut kuning. And as for air sirap…I had hated it ever since Kak Long had once cracked a joke about how air sirap was actually diluted blood. (Hahaha!).
Because me and my mother could not agree about the food, we went to my father. My father then decided that I should get what I wanted: Bihun goreng and Coke. My father reasoned the way I did: because it was MY kenduri and it was a celebration of MY achievement, and thus I should get what I wanted. My mother, though worried and displeased, finally consented to the plan and I finally got my bihun and Coke. And guess what….kids always enjoy bihun goreng and Coke heaps more than pulut kuning and air sirap. I mean, just talk to the kids. We like sweet, unhealthy things like Coke, right? And bihun goreng pedas-pedas makan dengan Coke yang bergas…hello! Of course we prefer those! All my friends said that my kenduri khatam Quran was the most delicious than any other kenduri before. I told my mother what my friends said and she was happy and relieved.
So truly, what ever propriety and good manners that I have, they all belonged to the insistence and teachings of my mother. My mother would always comment about my attire, about what I should wear, about how I haven’t worn the baju kurung she bought me (and therefore she would never again buy me anything else, she said… but then she would end up buying me the same stuff again and again in the hopes that I would wear it. Hahha) My mother gave me all the proper conventions that I have now. And my father gave me all the radical beliefs that I possess. Between the two of them, they balanced each other and gave us balanced perspective. But of course, me being me, I tend to skew towards radicalism than convention.
My mother is also the buffer in any fight I have with my father. (Me and my father have our moments of truce and our moments of war.) Me and my father fought a lot. Because we are very similar, we tend to rub off against each other. He believed what he believed and I believed what I believed. We BOTH wanted to convert one another to our set of belief system. My mother would watch our verbal arguments in a concerned frown. At last she would say, “Ayah tak payah mengata kat kak ngah. Kak Ngah pun tak payah kata kat ayah. Dua-dua orang sama! Sudah!” And we would quit arguing when she said that. At that moment, we did not appreciate being said that we were similar to each other. Hahah.
My mother is a strong woman. If you are married to my father, you must be. There is a balancing art to it. How to please his fussy fastidious ways but at the same time retain the core integral part of your personality. That is hard. I don’t have the same gentle ways that she has.
As gentle as she was, my mother was expected to become the enforcer of my father’s disciplinary ways. Sometimes, even when she disagreed to the discipline. So, she was stuck in the middle. She pretended not to know some of our crazy misdeeds because if she appeared as though she knew about it, she would have no choice but to enforce the rule.
“You know, kak ngah…I think all those years when we thought our parents had no idea what we were up to….when we were kids..” My Kak Long said one day in one of our phone conversation.
“I think they knew but only pretended that they didn’t know.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because I am a parent now. And Eshan and Aayra were always up to something they thought I didn’t know. But I did.”
Kids are honest creatures not because they never lied. It’s because when they do lie, it’s obvious.
Me and Kak Long lied a lot when we were kids. We pretended to read academic books instead of the real fiction tucked underneath our bigger text book. We watched TV when our parents were not around, and then scrambled quickly to switch off the TV and ran to the study room when we heard the sound of the car engine outside, signalling that my parents have come home (Thanks to Kak Milah, our pengasuh who was so conspiratorial about it. Hahah. I love her still). When our parents looked in on us, we looked so innocently studious in the study room, the perfect epitome of hardworking angels.
“Kak Ngah dengan Kak Long buat apa?”
“Study,” We said in unison. (Looking back, I knew now that we were terrible actors.)
“Awat kipas memusing kat luar. TV pun panas ja.” (Yup, we forgot to switch off the fan. And we were caught by surprise that my father would bother to feel up the TV. Damn it. Busted!).
“Hmm…tak taulah. Tanya Kak Milah” My Kak Long said. I smiled at my Kak Long, applauding her quick thinking. My dad simply nodded his head and asked us to continue with what we were doing. We have always thought that we had fooled him that day. (And since then, we watched the TV without switching on the fan because even if we remembered to switch off the fan when my father came home, the fan wouldn’t stop moving immediately due to the leftover inertia/momentum. My father might notice how the fan was just recently being switched off when he walked into the living room. So we decided to forego the comfort of the fan when we watched the TV next time.But there was nothing we could do about the TV heating up. We could only pray that my father wouldn’t feel up the TV every time he came home from work. haha. Yeah, we were terrible kids who always came up with various ways and tricks to break the rules every time we got the chance)
There was another time when I did something naughty (usually it revolved around me not being home on time after playing with my friends outside. My father was very, very strict about time. If I said I would be home by 6.30, then there will be hell waiting for me if I got home at 7.00 instead.)
I knew a stroke of rattan would be waiting for me if I was late. But sometimes me and my Kak Long risked the consequences because we wanted to go on playing.
“Mana rotan ayah simpan atas almari?”
“Tak tau, ayah. Kak long tak tau.” My Kak Long said. (Yeah…we had hidden the rattan stick.)
“Kami tak ambil rotan. Jatuh belakang almari kot.” I said. You have no idea how many times the rattan fell over to the other side of the heavy bookshelf, making it unreachable to my father. We always thought he bought the act.
All those times we thought we got away from punishments because our parents didn’t know….now I knew better. Now, I think they must have known. When we were kids, we thought it was our cleverness that got us away from undesirable consequences. But actually, it was their love and mercy. They pretended to not know so that they wouldn’t have to administer the punishment they said they would give if we had committed something bad.
My mother, even though she is a strong woman, is the weak link when it comes to disciplined parenting. All of our requests for anything would go through her. We wouldn’t dare to ask straight from my father. My mother often said, “Awat tak minta sendiri kat ayah?”
Yeah, we would ask straight from our father for academic books, stuff for school and anything in the serious realm. But for anything frivolous or playful or trivial, we were scared to face the rejection if we were to ask them from our father.
When I started studying away from home, my father would give an allowance for me that he thought should last long enough until the next time I came home for school break. My father always said that I was the most ‘boros’ of all his children. He wanted to teach me a hard lesson about economy for so long….he said “Habis duit awal, ayah tak tambah dah.” He always said that ever since I could remember. But of course my mother would give me more money each time, outside the knowledge of my father. “Jangan habaq kat ayah,” She would whisper to my ear. I rarely run out of money…but my mother always thought that I would not be able to keep within the budget in view of my boros reputation in the family (I bought books, food, books and books. Hihihi) So she would automatically give more to me even when I didn’t ask for it.
I guess the economy lesson intended for me never really took roots inside my head because my mother secretly supplemented whatever my father gave me. My mother did the same thing for all of us sisters, silently slipping in more money than the amount my father deemed wise. (Compared to my mother,my father came from a poor family and he places a lot of values in money management. His degree is in accountancy, so go figure!)
I think, my mother made it easy for us to be disciplined by my father. She made the whole thing easier; more sufferable, I suppose. She… softened it. She made it less harsh. She made us know that the discipline was executed out of love; not malice. (because if it were up to my father to communicate that, we would never get the idea. Haha)
As I grew up into womanhood, I became more in tune with my mother, and less idolising of my father. There were times when I would tell her, “Mak, kalau mak tak setuju dengan ayah, mak cakap jerlah. Apa yang susah sangat?” But my mother has her own way of getting what she wants, I guess. When she told my father that she wanted another house nearer to a mosque so that she could worship properly, my father fulfilled that wish. Previously our house was located in a taman without even a surau nearby, as most of my neighbours were Chinese and Indians. Their house now is just a walking distance away from a mosque. When my mother said that she wants to go for umrah every year and my father must allocate some time annually for it, my father agreed to take a few weeks off every year to go to umrah with her. Maybe she just knew which battle to fight after years of marriage to a very strict husband. Just like we sisters learned how to do what we wanted behind our father’s back. It takes priorities shuffling, planning, trickery, evasion, and sometimes downright rebellion. Hahah. ‘
Even though I always felt that we siblings take after our father the most, there is something of my mother that I inherited: the gift of being self-contained. My mother is very self-contained. She didn’t need anyone to entertain her or attend to her. She took an early pension at the age of 53 because “Mak tak suka buat kerja-kerja paperwork; pakai E-His, dengan akreditasi semua tu. Mak suka buat kerja nursing. La ni jadi nurse, asyik duduk depan komputer saja. Tak macam kami dulu. Dulu, kami attend to patients; observation buat kat bedside. We talked to patients. La ni semua asyik mengadap komputer. Mak tak suka kerja macam tu” I totally get her; that is another thing I inherited from her. I hate doing non-doctor things (organizing exhibitions, networking, ass-kissing, budget planning, attending meetings etc etc. I study to become a doctor and a healer. Not to deal with political crap and attitudish people. I know that there are times doctors must also be educators, do CME and attend courses or give courses. But the rest of the other administrative work, I don’t like it much and would find such stuff stressful.)
A lot of the older staff nurses who knew my mother had asked me, “Mak buat apa kat rumah, pencen awal. Tak boring ke?”
I laughed. “Mak tak boring lah. Dia banyak kerja.”
“Jaga cucu ka?”
I laughed again. “Tak lah. Jaga cucu kadang-kadang ja.”
My mother is a busy woman. She woke up before fajr for all the sunat prayers, then she went to the mosque and attended the subuh sermon. Then she would prepare breakfast for my father and do the daily housechores. Then she would pray the Dhuha prayer and then she would cook lunch. And she would attend a lot of classes. Every day there are classes at the mosque. She has her schedule full of activities even during the weekend.
She told my sisters clearly, “Mak tak jaga cucu hari-hari. Mak tak mau jadi macam kawan mak. Nak pi ke mana pun tak boleh asyik nak kena jaga cucu. Anak-anak dia ni tak kesian kot kat mak depa asyik penat jaga cucu; sampai nak buat apa pun tak boleh. Mak nak seronok-seronok main dengan cucu bila-bila mak nak. Tapi tak mau nak kena jaga selalu. Hangpa pandai-pandai cari nursery or orang gaji. Zaman jaga budak-budak ni dah berlalu untuk mak. La ni, mak nak rehat dan beribadat.” And I applauded her decision. My mother has no problem with straight-talking when she feels like it. Hahah.
Like her, I never knew how people get bored. I always have things to do. I don’t even have time to be bored. I fulfil my friends’ request for hanging out for their sake rather than for mine. I feel close to them regardless of whether or not we meet frequently. But some people need rituals and traditions to cement a connection. I don’t. If I like you and consider you as a friend, I don’t need frequent catching up to feel like our friendship is still meaningful. But I have learned to accommodate that sort of request over the years.
The truth is I lead a busy life, myself. I come back from work, feed my cat, water my plants, go for a jog, perform my Maghrib and Isya prayer, and then I have to STUDY! And after I go to sleep, the next day I have to go to work and the same cycle repeat itself over and over again. During the time when I do have free time, I would read thrillers/novels/mysteries/literatures….or I would write an essay, compose a poem or I would blog. WHEN do I have the time to be bored? Never!
Like her, I am very self-contained. The gift of never being bored is something I inherited from her. And we both were described by our friends as aloof and unapproachable at first but after getting to know us better, that impression would change. That is totally something both of us share. Being called ‘muka sombong’ is something I got from her. My father teased my mother about it frequently. Now, the internet has invented a term for that sort of thing. It’s called BRF (bitchy resting face). Hahah. And we predicted that Aayra (my niece) has all the potential to inherit the same BRF tendency.
My mother is the love of my life. Even when I argue with her or disagree with her, (and I do plenty of those, trust me) that fact would never change. Even when I am exasperated with her, or she is exasperated with me or we are exasperated with each other, my love for her will never fade, never die. She is the one person in my life that I can honestly say that I would do anything for; Anything within the bounds of religious jurisprudence… I would do it for her (of course when I disagree with her, I would try to convince her to change her mind first. Hahah. But if she said that obeying her is a matter of life and death and is very integral to her everlasting happiness, then I would do it. Hands down! No more questions asked!)
Happy 60th Birthday, Mother. Your daughter here is everlastingly grateful for the privilege of being able to call you her most beloved mother. In your hands, gentleness becomes strength rather than weakness. In your hands, patience becomes courage rather than cowardice. You are The Incomparable among everyone I have ever laid eyes on in this life. Thank you for dealing with my difficult, slow-to-warm-up phase of childhood. Thank you for dealing with my temper tantrums when I was a teenager. Thank you for always having my back even when you disagree with me. Your support means the whole world to me even if I may not know how to display the sentiment properly.
May Allah bless you with His Mercy and His Love always, forever…to the hereafter. Amin.
I remain, your adorably loving daughter.