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The Ongoing Journey Of Seeing My Mum As A Complete Person, And Not Just A Mother

The Ongoing Journey Of Seeing My Mum As A Complete Person, And Not Just A Mother

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Cover image by Feline Lim/RICE Media. All other images courtesy of the author.

This Mother’s Day, we’re publishing a personal letter written from the perspective of a young Singaporean as she reflects on her relationship with her mother, and everything they’ve been through together over the past few years. Taahira and her mum run Spice Zi Kitchen, a home-based cooking class specialising in everyday Indian Muslim cuisine.

08/05/2014

Mumzie [11:30 PM] Where are you?
Taahira [11:45PM] Coming home soon, you can sleep! I’ll be home late.

08/08/2015

Mumzie [11:30 PM] Hiiiiii ma, how are you? We haven’t spoken in awhile. Shall I call you tonight?
Taahira [11:30 PM] Hi Ma, we are 13 hours apart, so your night will be my early morning, so I won’t be awake. Things are okay here. I’ll call you another time.

08/12/2015

Mumzie [02:00 PM] Hiii ma, have you bought your ticket back? When will you come back? Shall we talk tonight?
Taahira [08:00 PM] Not yet ma, still talking to the airlines. It’ll take some time, I’m not coming back so soon. I’ll call you tonight.

08/06/2016

Mumzie [02:00 PM] Happy birthday ma….! May God’s blessings and good tidings always be with you. When will you be coming home?
Taahira [08:00 PM] Thanks ma. I’m still speaking to the airlines. Maybe some time in August.

Dear Mummy,

Do you remember how our relationship used to be? 

When I was in university, hanging out late with friends, and when I was living abroad, I used to detest your calls. I would not pick up when I saw ‘Home’ or ‘Mummy’ calling. I didn’t feel like there was much I could tell you about my days—what I was doing or who I was hanging out with because you disapproved of many of the things I did. 

Home didn’t feel like a place I wanted to go back to. I didn’t feel accepted for the thoughts I had, the clothes I wore, the things I believed in and chose to do. I felt like the only things you wanted was for me to get a ‘traditional’ job, pay my dues to you as a daughter, and obediently agree to the life you had set out for me. Which included marrying an Indian Muslim man, being a good Muslim, and a good daughter.

This wasn’t the relationship I hoped to have with you. Work had to be done, and over the last seven years we began to mend the broken bridge of our relationship, one block at a time.

The first, fundamental block I laid down was being honest with you with all my thoughts. This wasn’t about seeking acceptance or approval, but simply asking for you to respect them for what they were. Your part of the block was to tell me that you loved and cared for me, and always wanted the best for me; even if I may not see eye-to-eye with you on an issue.

I started organising activities for us to do together outside of home—nature walks, art walks, art-jamming, movies, traveling. We started finding out things about each other through actions rather than words. It’s funny how you can know someone your whole life, yet still learn something new about them. 

We learnt about a shared love for long walks, the wilderness, getting lost, and striking up conversations with people we meet along the way. I remember fondly our 10-day hike to Annapurna Base Camp, where the only things we did were wake up, get dressed, and walked. What a treat it was to be dwarfed by mountains and trees, as we walked on for 6–8 hours every day. It wasn’t the summit or the descent, but our journey together and the people we met that enriched us.

We also learnt about our jarring differences. Like your punctuality, or your insistence that everyone and anyone can give you a discount. Your obsession with cleaning spaces, and your lack of interest in trying food outside of your comfort zone. Like the time when we were in Taiwan when you insisted on eating only milk and bread, because all the other food options were unappealing to you; while I ate everything and anything I felt like, and you tried keeping your judgments at bay.

I made it a point to plan at least one thing for the week for us to do together. This was my way of showing you I cared, even though I’d moved out, much to your initial disapproval. I liked that we spent time together like this and began having conversations about things beyond the home.

The next layer we needed to tackle was listening to the other without imposing our judgment. I won’t lie. It’s difficult sometimes, because we just feel that we should speak out when something we’re listening to is wrong or detrimental. But we have to try.

Over these years, we’ve clocked many minutes of phone (and sometimes video) calls, exchanged Telegram messages and stickers. They help to keep us close, especially at this time when going out or seeing each other isn’t always possible.

Through these conversations, I gain insight into your days at work, your colleagues and your friends. All of it adds up to help me see who you are in your personhood—beyond being my mother. A woman with her own story, baggage, and rich life experience.

Once you told me about a colleague who bothered you and was constantly ‘bulldozing’ over your work. And I helped you to devise tactics to approach and confront her. You told me how you never had the chance as a kid to stand up for yourself — I saw the courage in you. The eldest daughter, who lost a parent when she was 21, and told to get married at 23, who did as she was told because it was only right.

I’ve realised that seeing the different shades and aspects to you have helped me to love, care and appreciate you more as a person. You are not perfect. You also are scared and vulnerable. You make mistakes. But don’t we all exist in our imperfections?

The act of spending time together has become more intentional. It’s no longer just ‘What time are you coming home’ texts, but conversations about the projects we’re doing, what’s bothering us, what we’re excited about, the people we just met, how they made us feel.

We have more to say, because we have more space to listen.

Two years ago, I planted a seed of an idea for Spice Zi Kitchen, as we got off the 14 hour bus journey from Kampala to Kigali. You thought I was ‘crazy ma’. But since we started this journey, I’ve watched you grow into your role so gracefully as your patience and love for food shines through. I think you’re a great teacher and wonderful conversationalist. I’m so happy and proud to see the woman you’re becoming Ma, and the daughter that I get to be because of you.

As we journey on over the coming years, I know how you feel about having pending and unfinished maternal responsibilities and duties to me. Especially as I grow older and choose an untraditional (in the Indian Muslim community) path of living. I may not get married soon, have children, or even want to settle in one place for too long. I know it is not easy to support me in these endeavours.

But I hope that what we have built together can inspire you to see the world and its possibilities the ways I do. After all I am your daughter, and am only one because of you.

Thank you, Mummy, and happy Mother’s Day.

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Author

Taahira Ayoob Contributor