Parenting in reverse #2: my Mother’s Day musing

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Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and wherever you’re celebrating this, I hope it’s a memorable one for you and your mom. With food, photos and fun for the whole family.

For me though, it feels like just another day to step out for a meal with my mom; nothing more.

Even that isn’t a particularly welcome prospect for Mr Introvert here. Especially when every other family will be out doing the same tomorrow; descending like drones on all the usual eating places.

Since I last wrote on my ambivalence about my mom, I’ve been feeling a desire to untangle this knotty relationship. And tomorrow’s annual celebration of this pivotal personality in every household is once more stirring thoughts within me. Making me wonder what to make of my mom? What to make of me? And how many more Mother’s Day remain for us to spend it together?

But before I get into that, I have always wondered: who mooted the idea for a Mother’s Day?

Mother’s Day: From Ancient Greece and Rome…

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According to and other online sites, celebrations of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. These folks held festivals in honour of the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele.

But the clearest modern precedent for Mother’s Day is the early Christian festival known as “Mothering Sunday.” Once a major tradition in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, this celebration fell on the fourth Sunday in Lent. It was originally seen as a time when the faithful would return to their “mother church” — the main church in the vicinity of their home — for a special service. 

Over time the Mothering Sunday tradition shifted to a more secular holiday. Kids would present their moms with flowers or other tokens of appreciation. This custom eventually faded in popularity but came back into its own via the American Mother’s Day in the 1930s and 1940s.

Which in turn was thanks to a lady by the name of Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis, or more accurately, her daughter Anna Jarvis.

…to Anna of West Virginia!

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Ann was a social activist in West Virginia, USA during the Civil War years. Prior to those years, Ann had created the Mother’s Day Work Club to teach local ladies how to care for their children. Then in 1868 she mooted a Mother’s Friendship Day to promote harmony among mothers of Confederate and Union soldiers.

Later in the 1900s, her daughter Anna decided to promote a day to honour mothers like hers.

Hence Mother’s Day.

The irony was that over time the day got extremely commercialised; even politicised. So Anna actually back paddled her idea and campaigned hard to have it “put it to bed”.

Clearly she lost, and passed away sadly all alone in an asylum.

Perhaps if families just showed their love and gratitude to their mothers daily, everyday can be Mother’s Day. And Anna might not have ended her days so pitiably. I can only hope she at least had many fond childhood memories with her mom to accompany her to the netherworld.

Memories like, say, ironing clothes together?

Of ironing kerchiefs and making Mother’s Day memories

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A memory I have as a kid was sitting on PVC floor paper in the living room in our family’s tiny three-bedroom apartment while ironing cotton handkerchiefs.

Back then, we didn’t have foldable ironing boards to iron clothes standing up. Instead, we used thick blankets and mattress covers laid flat on the floor beside a wall socket. That’s where you’ll find my mom in the evenings after dinner, sitting on the floor and ironing everyone’s clothes (mostly my father’s and my four older siblings’) on that makeshift “ironing board”.

As I was still very young, my mom would only let me sit and watch her, warning me to stay clear of the smouldering iron.

Later, she taught me to iron handkerchiefs, the easiest thing for me to manage.

I would press the heavy iron with all my might onto the few square inches of cotton hankies until they were flatter than the PVC floor paper I sat on. Then I would fold them neatly, making sure they end up like square pieces of tiles before I stack one upon another.

If I close my eyes now and concentrate, I can even feel afresh the comforting warmth and fragrance that lingered on those kerchiefs after my masterful ironing!

Funny how cotton hankies were a thing back then. These days I’ll be hard pressed to find one in my closet.

As hard as finding other childhood memories that warm my heart the way the iron in my hand warmed those handkerchiefs.

Memories like making sticky rice dumplings.

Of making rice dumplings and Mother’s Day memories


The only other fond memory that stood out for me with my mom was during the annual dumpling festival where she made the traditional Chinese sticky rice dumplings that we loved.

We would sit on miniature stools in the kitchen facing a bamboo pole poised between two dining chairs. On that pole hung raffia strings we would use to tie up the pyramid-shaped dumplings we made.

They comprised of rice of course that was stuffed with all kinds of meats (usually chicken) and lots of other tasty ingredients. Then wrapped up in pandan leaves and hung up, each dumpling awaited its turn to be steamed to perfection before they’re ready to eat.

Lousy in the kitchen (still) and the very antithesis of a culinary connoisseur, I nevertheless recalled how I loved to sit there with my mother and stuffed those leaves, fold them into pyramid shapes and tie them up on that pole. There was just something about that whole experience. It made me feel close to my mother. That not only was I useful to her, I was also bonding with her.

Sadly those memories seem fleeting now.

Celebrate Mother’s Day? I’m afraid I can’t…yet.

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The way I remembered it, Mother’s Day wasn’t yet a thing in our country when I was a kid. No one celebrated it. No one gave my mother special attention on that day, or for that matter any day really.

Despite the fact she was at home every day serving and slaving for everyone. She was the responsible, full-time housewife, but to me my mom never seemed happy.

Perhaps more so now that she’s wheel-chaired and living with dementia.

Why do I feel resentful my relationship with my parents are patchy at best? Wasn’t it enough they provided for my daily needs? That I never really lacked for anything, even though we were far from well-off?

I’d like to believe it’s not because I’m materialistic, even though my dad was miserly and my mom frugal.

I just think that back then, others had closer relational bonds with their parents than I did. And so I resented my parents for what would now be referred to as my FOMO life growing up.

My father, when he was alive, was a lost cause when it came to all things parenting. But I thought at least my mom could be the nurturing, doting and loving mom all children wish their mothers to be. Instead she became to me grouchier over the years, raising five children while quarrelling endlessly with my father.

So if you ask me if I’m any closer to untying my knotty relationship with my mom, or closer to celebrating Mother’s Day every day, I’ll have to disappoint you. And her.

But maybe, just maybe if I concentrate hard enough again, those iron kerchief and dumpling memories might “loosen the knot” in ways this over-commercialised Mother’s Day fails to do for my mother and I every year.

Nevertheless, and for what it’s worth, Happy Mother’s Day mom.

And Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers everywhere.

3 thoughts on “Parenting in reverse #2: my Mother’s Day musing

  1. What a lovely article! I really enjoyed the historical aspects, especially Mothering Sunday! I go to an Anglican Catholic Church in the U. S. and Mothering Sunday is still a much-loved tradition right down to the simnel cake.

    I had similar mixed feeling with my paternal grandmother–to say she was grouchy would be an understatement. It’s only been recently that I was able to really appreciate her good points and she passed away well over 15 years ago now.

    The fact you can have positive memories while you’re still metaphorically in the trenches is no small matter.

    Thank you for the post!

    1. Hi Kathleen! So glad you dropped by and that you resonated with my piece. Yes still in the trenches but hoping for clarity as the days move forward.

  2. It’s interesting that our memories will always be our happy place, no matter how good or bad things may have seemed at the time. I liked this trip down your memory lane too, because it did fill my mind with how life was in the past.

    And you’re right. My grandfather used to always carry a handkerchief with him, and my dad too when I was very young. But I’ve never seen one in so long. I forgot that it was even part of my life. Anyway, what a great post for Mother’s Day. Thanks for this!

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