To My Single Mother

Dear Mum,

I need to get something off my chest.

Growing up, I never really saw you as an exceptional mother. Now before you start furiously Whatsapping me to let me know how offended you are by that statement, let me explain.

I never realised how special you were, because you did everything with such ease. You put food on our table, and a roof over our heads so you could come home and nag us before tucking us into bed at night.

We spent weekends on the beach and rainy nights curled up with homemade dinners in front of the television. I grew up in a bubble of comfort, with Barbie birthdays and blow-up bouncy castles till I became ignorant to the sweat behind the luxury.

You gave so joyously and unconditionally that I never stopped to question how much you had given to our family.

To be honest, I can’t really pinpoint the moment where things changed for us, but I knew a change was coming. The financial crisis hit and you’d heard stories of people losing everything they had. Losing the lives they’d grown so accustomed to.

Then it hit us. The money dwindled, the condos became four-rooms HDBs, then two. You sold the car, your jewellery and your insurance. You sat Kor and I down and told us we were going to have to readjust our lives.

Soon our family unit downsized like our homes. We watched dad pack his bags, as we felt a mix of sadness, relief and anger. As children we tend to forget that our parents are human; we point fingers where there’s no need for blame because we can’t take you off your pedestals.

I suppose we were too young to understand the absurdity of being upset with our circumstances, the absurdity of being upset with you. As if you had decided to rob us of our privilege we thought we were entitled to.

I think it was because we grew up with this idea that families required two parents, happily married and in love. But the fact is, life goes on, even if things don’t go as planned.

You understood we didn’t have time to wallow in our losses. You got back up, put one foot in front of the other, and we followed your lead.

I’ll never forget the day we moved into our dingy flat in Bukit Batok. It was infested with cockroaches and covered in a layer of grime. I remember the sinking feeling I felt in the pit of my stomach, and Kor having a meltdown in the middle of the dusty living room.

Despite all that, we converted that hell hole (your words not mine) into a home. Your steadiness turned our resentment into a shared purpose. When we struggled to survive, you taught us the importance of living life to the fullest.

But only years later did I realise how these events took a toll on you. I watched your glow turn grey and you became too weak and depressed to get out of bed. You’d spent so much time picking up the pieces and pushing us forward that you’d left yourself behind.

Then it was my turn—to be the person you’d taught me to be. As I sat on the edge of your bed, you told me you felt like you’d failed us as a mother.

That was the day I understood what you meant when you said, “Sometimes you don’t have to do anything but be present for the people you love.”

Because of your sheer determination and presence, I’m able to stand here (or sit on my butt and write) today, stronger and wiser. And because of what you taught me, we’re able to stand together as a family and face whatever life has to throw at us.

You never once let us feel worse off than our friends, you never stopped hustling and you never turned empty from pouring every ounce of your love into our lives.

Anais Nin once said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Because of your unwavering courage, our lives expanded too. You found a job that you were great at, and I could finally see your glow return a little at a time. You got us a home to call our own and put us through university while still having the energy to be our emotional rock.

I don’t know if you remember this, but you once sat me down and told me, “When you’re feeling overwhelmed, tell yourself, I am a mountain and these are my clouds. A mountain never sways for the clouds, or gets carried away.” In life, problems come and go, but we will remain, and so we did.

I’m truly #blessed (sorry I had to) to call you my mother, my friend, and my inspiration. Writing this made me realise that the sense of wholeness and warmth that I felt as a child didn’t come from the extravagant birthdays or the expensive condominiums. It came from the sincerity of your love, and the time we’d shared.

You taught me the importance of having pride. To never accept things just as they are. To fight for what you want, but to love people fairly and fiercely.

So this Mother’s Day I want to say, thank you. For accepting me as I am. For not babying me even when I wanted you to, and for seeing me as a human with human struggles, not just as your child. You will never have to walk alone because Kor and I are never going to stop loving you—or move out.