A story about, an apology and a belated love letter to my mum, a homemaker.
It was probably mid-way through secondary school, when I started becoming oddly conscious about it. A teacher asked if I had ever received tuition to which I replied no, because my mum used to teach me. Oh, is she a teacher too? / No, my mum is a homemaker. Then a moment of uncomfortable, fidgety radio silence as if I had gotten the answer wrong. For a long while after, the customary, di rigueur question of what my parents did for a living suddenly left me stopping short of mum. A lapse that was a thick, inarticulate mix of doubt, regret and biting guilt. When I did answer, it was fleeting and with meagre conviction: my mum? Oh she’s a just homemaker.
Soon, I also realised the split silences that followed were a recurring phenomenon. From the awkward oh…I see…, to a halt before quickly moving on and the one I disliked most — a delay before asking questions typically along so she just stays at home everyday? But the true monster among the lot was my own pauses; that which once felt like a pinch had morphed overtime into a beastly stab.
My mum is a homemaker. Perhaps there was nothing else to that and a small, tragically naive part of me believed it to be true.
My mum, taken by my dad on a date.
My Mum, My First Wonder Woman
When I could still count my age with my hands, my mum was the most gallant, kind, intelligent and omnipresent superhero. She had the solution for everything, was infinitely capable, trimmed my fringe better than the hairdresser, cooked an unbeatable ketchup fried rice, knew the answers to all my homework (and to everything else), was always the face and hand I could find in a crowd…and the list went on, in no order of importance. I did not, at that time, see my mum as a homemaker; or even remotely considered it as part of who she was.
Then I grew up, started doing things on my own, stopped keeping a fringe, stopped eating ketchup with everything, took bigger exams with questions I no longer asked my mum for help with, made my own way through crowds and gained ambition to focus on “important things”. Like, you know, I can’t imagine being a homemaker when I grow up.
I told my mum that.
My mum, my twin sister and I.
The Power Suit My Mum Does Not Own
Later on, I developed an interest in gender discourses and started writing women in university. Wherein I became even more aware of the rousing “female power suit” in popular culture. It was the new contemporary ideal of a young, capable, driven career woman, who excelled at both her first (at work) and second shift (at home). I couldn’t quite find my mum in this revolution. By social standards, my mum did not own this power suit. And horribly, I had begun to tie what she did not have to the person she was. My mum couldn’t give me the professional advice I needed, couldn’t help me out with networking. She wasn’t a working woman, she was a homemaker.
So I grew up and outgrew my wonder woman, who had quietly grown old. For an unfortunate length of time, in my new “young modern woman” eyes, my mum’s well-worn wonder suit no longer gleamed like before and I no longer admired it the same way. I still wonder from time to time, how my mum felt when that childhood adoration extinguished itself, or when I let slip that I was conscious of her missing “professional” experience. And most gut-wrenchingly, that maybe she could no longer be my wonder woman because I had replaced her with a glossy CEO from LinkedIn, who seemed to be everything she was not.
*yells* But It’s Not The Only Power Suit That Matters
Let me take the “young modern woman” I imagined I was a while back by the neck and say, what a one-track mind! Behind the presumably straightforward understanding of home, is a running list of tasks and expectations that need to be fulfilled, in order to maintain the really quite complex construction of “a home”.
So my mum is not just a homemaker, she does not just cook everyday and not only because she does a lot more things than that. Don’t get me wrong, homemaking is a “7-days-a-week-24-hours-a-day” commitment. Although beyond that, maybe there should be no just to homemaking because there is absolutely nothing merely about the role. Aside from the volume of household chores, there is unprecedented value in the job. Yup, I said it. Homemaking is a job that performs one of the most essential, yet grossly under-appreciated functions of supporting and managing the household. It is not the only way a home can be kept. But having, or not having (without drawing any comparison) a stay-at-home mum could fundamentally alter one’s experience and the formation of self.
In retrospect, if my mum had not been a homemaker, I would probably be a rather different person today. So we return to that stinging irony. In the midst of chasing my myopic “power suit” dreams and deeming it above my mum’s greying wonder suit, I forget that I am possibly very much who and where I am today because of a choice my mum made — and that she continues to make every day.
My mum, the morning of her wedding.
I Will Still Probably Never Be Like My Mum
To put in bluntly, it’s because I am utterly incapable of it.
My mum has been a stay-at-home mum for quite a long time now. She used to have, carefully tucked away, vintage office clothes, bags and even old credit cards; it was clear to me that my mum had enjoyed and did miss being a “working woman”. Maybe she had saved those belongings for a later date? I don’t think every stay-at-home mum dreamed of becoming a homemaker. I think every girl (past and present) has her own trove of aspirations, where homemaking is not always in the mix.
For my mum, becoming a homemaker likely meant leaving dreams behind; trading the office for the house and making this household, us included, her principal occupation. What if she knew all along that it might often be thankless and invisible work, with a fair share of stigma? So why?
One of the most invaluable lessons I have learned from my mum is that love must certainly be — at least a big part of it — a choice. Being a homemaker does not mean one necessarily loves more than a mum who chooses differently. But it is surely a kind of love that is as boundless and matchless as it is wordless, that I sometimes cannot fathom why I deserve it. Yet, this is how my mum has chosen to love and I will probably be thoroughly unable (at least in the foreseeable future) of choosing the same. I now see that that’s not something to be particularly impressed about.
From our first holiday with my younger sister in tow — I became an older sister!
I Present You: My Mum, A Homemaker & My Wonder Woman
My mum is a homemaker and she makes me proud. There is so much to what she does, that I cannot even begin to tell you. She might wear a different power suit; maybe less fancy, but of just the same character as any other super suit. And I wholly believe, is an indispensable part of everything I am and will be.
While I was in university, a tutor once posed us a question: if you could travel back in time to meet your mum in her youth (presuming that she is a presently a homemaker), would you advise her to choose differently? I cannot deny I most probably will. Because a part of me does regret — irretrievably — being the reason my mum let her own dreams take a backseat.
Although, I’m sure I will wind up leaving with a permanent, gaping hole in my being; knowing I will then never have the mum and the life I do now. I imagine it would be like the classic you go first/no, you go first dilemma. Except that I don’t even have to consider this choice, because my mum already made one for us in a heartbeat; before she even knew what she was going to get.
My mum is a homemaker and she is as inimitably able, brilliant, elegant and beautiful as any other mum, regardless of vocation. 24 years on and she still has the fix for everything, still makes the best ketchup dishes, cheers me on with unrivalled intensity and will always be the face and hand I look forward to finding the most in any crowd. And this list goes on, with no order of importance. My mum turns our house into a home not because she keeps it, but because she is in it. So to my first and unequivocally forever wonder woman, Happy Mother’s Day.
PS: I love you!
My mum and us, from one of our first times walking.
This Mother’s Day, we celebrate all mothers and empowering mother figures alike in a series of dedicated content. From our stories to yours; memories, dreams and fears — join us in the occasion. Happy Mother’s Day!