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Motherhood — the best job in the world

My beloved mother passed away peacefully six months ago at age 93. It had been almost two years since I last held her in my arms.

The saddest thing was that I was the only one of her ten children who could not make it in time for her funeral and thus had missed the chance to say my final goodbye. I had already braced myself for this day many years ago when Tom and I moved away from Malaysia. But to finally realize that she is really gone now brings a great sense of loss to me. I have many precious memories of my childhood spent with a mother who is gentle, brave and sparse with her harsh words. The memory of my mother and her teachings are, after all, the only things I have left of hers.

Once, not that long ago, my husband and I boasted more parents than children. Then, between the two of us, we had three surviving parents and two children. Now, we have just one parent left — my 91-year-old mother-in-law.

On this Mother’s Day, there won’t be a card or flowers for my mother. Instead this column is my tribute to her.

It took a lot of effort on my mother’s part to raise ten children, look after aging and ailing in-laws, plus cook and wash for all of us. She did all this and more in the absence of automated household tools and machines. One of my most endearing memories of mother was seeing her crouched over a charcoal brazier in the pre-dawn darkness, cooking breakfast for her brood.

Now that both my parents are gone, I doubt that I will be returning to Malaysia any time soon. A chapter of my life has ended; my main connection to my roots gone. What has remained are the memories of mother forever etched deeply in my heart.

Today, according to a poll by Family Circle magazine, 86 percent of moms think they don’t get enough respect. And 80 percent agree that moms who stay home get even less. Even so, 77 percent of mothers who work full time would rather stay home if they could. Moms in both camps are a bit defensive: 73 percent of those at home think working moms look down on them, and 66 percent of those who work feel the same way about moms who are at home. The main message, however, is a positive one: while 70 percent of mothers say that being a mom is much more demanding than they expected, 92 percent say it is also much more rewarding.

A mother was feeling guilty; as mothers do (guilt is to motherhood what rain is to Seattle). Her daughter had told her she was the only mom who never took her kid to Tee-ball practice. Now that probably wasn’t true, but don’t we, as mothers, all know that it is the child’s role to make mother feel bad about things she hasn’t done enough, as well as things she simply hasn’t done. So the day of the next Tee-ball practice, mom got to work early, rushed through her tasks, then made an excuse and left. She drove across town like Sandra Bullock in Speed. Arriving at the ball field, mom sat down and basked for a few moments in a glow of satisfaction. It was then that she noticed the coach looking at her.

“It’s lovely to see you, Mrs. Smith,” the coach said. “But maybe next time you could bring your daughter as well?”

“I forgot the kid,” recalls the mom. “Can you believe it, I forgot the kid!”

Millions of mothers can believe it. A survey asked mothers who work outside the home what they would most like for Mother’s Day. And what did they reply? Flowers? Chocolates? Dinner? No, what 72 percent wanted was this: a bit of time to myself. The study also revealed that two-thirds were too exhausted to have sex and most felt they had tougher lives than their mother’s. And their moms didn’t have to contend with the avalanche of parental-advice books. There you are thinking you’re doing a pretty good job, when along comes an author explaining how, with a bit more effort, little Johnny can be turned into Leonard Bernstein. Or Donald Trump. Or both.

What these books presume is that parenting is a science, when in fact it falls somewhere between an art and a combat zone. What they never take into account is the frazzled woman who is leading a double life — trying to be a good mother while having to pretend at work that she doesn’t have kids at all.

Here, for those heroically divided souls, I salute you. What you have should be the worst job in the world — terrible hours, no prospect of promotion, and no pay. But, somehow, it turns out to be the best job in the world.

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