They say you should study hard, graduate, and get a good job.
My mom left school at 19, followed my grandfather and eldest uncle in flying up in the clouds and traveling the world, and began a lifelong career as a flight attendant and an aviation expert.
She may not have graduated with a prestigious degree, but my mom gave us all her love of flight and adventure, the thirst for cultures far different from our own, the hunger to be out in the world and around people.
Her experience taught us that the world is our school and our playground, and that we shouldn’t be afraid to be far from home and out on our own. She taught me that, when you get lost in an unfamiliar place, you should follow your intuition and go where your feet lead you, because there you will discover new things and eventually find your way back.
They say girls should find a good man, get married, and then have the babies.
Instead, my mom loved wholly, deeply, and passionately each time around, unafraid of what the world may think.
My mom had three children with three men (from different countries) who didn’t stay in any of our lives, but it taught us that family is what love—not what your genes—define. We kids can be as different as dawn, high noon, and midnight, but we’re all part of one tightly packed unit that will love and protect each other as best as we can. Our own family has taught us diversity and acceptance, tolerance and understanding—that we can all be different yet continue to respect and love each other despite our quirks (and the occasional wanting-to-strangle-each-other-because-we-thought-the-other-was-doing-something-stupid).
They say women should hate the men who leave them (and the women he leaves them for).
Instead, my mom welcomed my dad’s other partners into our home and allowed them all to be a part of our lives.
My mom knew what it was like to be left and hurt—over and over again. Yet each time, she would show us kids that forgiveness happens first at home, and that my dad (and his partners) shouldn’t be deprived of a relationship with us just because things didn’t work out with Mom and Dad. We would have “family meetings” and birthday parties with everyone present, showing us that it really takes a village (and sometimes, two) to raise a child.
It taught me that forgiveness is not about sweeping things under the rug and trying to forget. It’s also about facing things head-on, rising above our own emotions and human impulses, and treating everyone in the situation as the human beings that they are—deserving of our empathy, compassion, and respect. My mom’s capacity to forgive has also shown us that when you do things with great love (for yourself and for others), you can never go wrong.
They say you should be frugal, spend money wisely, and invest in your retirement.
My mom gave us everything she had, saving nothing for herself.
My mom—she will admit—is not the wisest person when it comes to money. A single mom to three children (and later on, a granddaughter), she spent everything that she had on us and left nothing for her retirement years. But what we lacked in insurance policies and savings, she poured on our education and our extra-curricular activities and hobbies.
Growing up, I had everything that the geek in me needed and wanted: books and encyclopedia sets, microscopes, LEGO cities, computers, video cameras, art classes, voice and theater lessons, a distance writing tutor—name it, if it was for school or our extra-curriculars (or, in my sister’s case, anything sports-related), we most often got it. What Mom couldn’t give us in terms of time and her physical presence, she invested in the tools we needed to explore our many interests.
All these unlocked for me the many facets of creativity that I enjoy and actively apply at work—which all came in handy when we fell on hard times and I needed to step up and support the family. All my instruments of childhood experimentation and play suddenly became my means to build a career and a life.
Mom’s mistakes have also taught us to never take money and financial sustainability for granted—but to likewise never be consumed by material wealth and its many trappings.
They say you should care about what the world thinks.
My mom never gave a f*ck.
During one feng shui session to which I accompanied my mom, she was told that her sign (Tiger) and her birth chart showed that her energy was, “All yang, no yin.” She was like a raging ocean—certainly not tranquil waters—ramming everything down its path. I burst out laughing because that’s exactly what my mom is like: loud, gregarious, imposing, who could turn pilots into puppies and straighten even the most twisted pupils in her aviation classes. Her former students called her “Mrs. Terror” because she was a very strict teacher and mentor, and she will not be afraid to cuss you out if your lazy mind deserved it. Throughout most of her career, Mom would be brought into to restore order into the most chaotic and problematic situations. If my mom were a vehicle, she would be a giant Hummer or a bulldozer—flattening out anything that stands in her way.
While I am certainly a lot more Zen and more like a bubbling brook than a raging ocean, my mom’s f*ck-the-world-I-want-what-I-want attitude has taught me to never (again) settle for anything less than I deserve. That I should never be afraid to go for my dreams—and certainly never apologize for who I am, what I believe in, and what I’m aiming for—because my life is there to be lived.
(I’m also reminding myself now: this was also the woman who pushed me on my bike—and let me fall on a bed of santan—even before I was ready to pedal, because she wanted me to effin’ pedal and not just “learn it”, and deal with the fall and the wounds that came with it. Thanks, Mom. It was useful training for real life!)
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So, Mommy, while you still sometimes shock me by the things you say and do, THANK YOU for breaking all those rules and showing us what it means to take life by the f*cking horns. We didn’t get the easy nor completely comfortable life, but we certainly got the training of a lifetime—and with the best possible example of taking life’s lemons and turning them into (spiked) lemonade.
Happy Mother’s Day!