Years ago, I received my first and only letter from my mother (enough to last me a lifetime)
I was 17 then, and alone in a foreign country, studying. Everyone else was at home while I struggled with loneliness and homesickness. Even though I was the one who was adamant about going overseas.
I received a letter from my mum at one point, and cried uncontrollably. It was a wake up call for me.
But first, how would yours read?
I remember the first time I travelled alone at 16. I was a timid girl who dared not speak up. Imagine how difficult it was to be all alone in a foreign land.
I came from a country where we had our own cars but rarely take public transport like the bus. As a result, I was mostly chauffeured to and from any place and home. Not because I come from a rich family but because public transportation was bad. Each family has to at least own a car out of necessity.
In all my 15 years of living, I had basically taken about three bus rides, all on school excursions. I had been living a pretty well sheltered life up till that point. Whatever I did back at home, I had the support and presence of my parents to back me up, be there for me and stand up for me. My mother even helped me ask for my first job interview when I was 14.
Coming to a foreign country, I had to fend for myself, socialise with strangers and travel by myself. There was no one to wake me in the morning and I had to do my own laundry. I also had to manage my allowance so I don’t end up being broke by second week. This new way of living was a whole new world of challenge.
Even a simple task like flagging a bus or pressing the bell to alight at the next stop was daunting for me. I hadn’t even dared to put up my hands up to flag the bus down so I could board. When I was in the bus, I would choose the safest spot where I could lean on or grab to handle so that I can keep my balance during the bus rides. Even if I get a chance to sit, I would choose the seat along the aisle. While it was a norm for others to press the bell so they could get off at the next stop, I was scared to bits and often wished someone would be alighting at the same stop as me.
Everything else around me were big, new and scary back then. I often had to muster up a lot of courage to ask for something that I absolutely need, otherwise I wouldn’t even attempt. As soon as I reached my rented home, I would head straight to my room and spend all my time in there, not coming out unless necessary because I didn’t know how to communicate well with strangers.
At school, I was a quiet kid at the corner. While I had exuberant, active and exciting bunch of course mates, I was more reserved and kept to myself. Due to my low esteem, I’d always hide behind the groups and was always envying how outgoing and how outspoken the others were. I kept myself to a small group.
Falling in love for the first time
Eventually I fell for a guy within that group and we started seeing each other.
Being young and innocent, I thought I was seen as matured now that I am independent enough to be overseas alone. And also, it had never occurred to me then that my parents would be worried for my safety. My parents worked very hard to put me through not only the course for three years, but also paid for my monthly living expenses. Naturally, they were also worried I would forget about my studies. At that point in time, my only thought was I was happy and I wanted to share my happiness with my family. So I shared my new relationship with my parents.
It ended a sour phone conversation, and my mother was telling me about all sorts of bad things that could happen and eventually, told me to break up with him.
I was heartbroken and devastated.
For someone who was falling in love for the first time and having to deal with it alone, without approval of my parents and having to be separated from the ex, it felt like a Romeo and Juliet scene.
A few weeks later, I received a postal mail from my landlady.
It was from my mother.
The first time my mum wrote me a letter, I cried
It was the first time she had ever written me a letter. When I was back at home, we would argue and quarrel. Sometimes the rebellious me would talk back and refuse to speak with her for days, until the ice melted and we slowly got back to speaking terms again. This time was different.
I was English educated (I barely knew how to read Chinese words) and my mother is Chinese literate. In that letter however, she tried her best to communicate to me in both Chinese and English.
It was more than two pages long, neatly written.
In her letter, she wrote about how much why she got uptight about my relationship, how she and my dad were worried about my safety and what difficulties and dangers I would encounter being alone. She also mentioned why I had to be careful, and that she and dad loved me. What struck me most was she was reproaching herself for allowing me to come overseas alone to study, as though it was her fault that I chose to come and met a boyfriend.
I began to cry uncontrollably because I had not known about her feeling and thoughts before then.
As a mother, all she wanted was the best for her child (me) and she was always worried about me because it was the first time I was away from home. Back then, we had no Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp or any chat apps. We had to use international call cards with limited time on the call.
Writing letter was the next best option she could reach out to me in a calm manner.
It was a monumental moment for me because I learned to see things from my mothers’ perspective then on.
Previously, it was all about me, me and me. I wanted this, I wanted that, I wanted to study overseas, I wanted to have a boyfriend, I wanted to have my freedom.
But I neglected how it affects people around me. Or rather, I naively assumed that the world revolved around me without thinking how difficult it was for my mother to let me go, how hard my dad had to work to put me through schooling. I expected money to be remitted to me monthly without thinking how much they were working hard. As a child, I failed to see from their views as parents who wanted to support me in achieving my dreams, no matter how hard it would be for them.
I began to see the picture in a clearer and broader sense.
I called my mum the moment I finished the letter. Instead of harsh words, we both mellowed down and, I cried my heart out to my mother for her love and my wilfulness.
Then on, I called back as often as I could. I tried to save from the monthly expenses my dad sent me every month, and paid off semester fee once I saved enough. In my third year, I began looking for part time work to sustain my living expenses. Once I finished my course, I started my search for work and secured a job within a month of my final exam.
Turned out, that first love lasted only ten months, even though it took me another three months to heal. But though this, I learned to treasure my mother’s love, care and concern for me which I would probably not have realised had I been at home at that time.
Today, I barely remember what my first love and I did while we were dating and going out, but I still remember clearly what my mother wrote to me. It remains etched in my heart and will be, for life.
When such events happen, you begin to see what real love and care is.
We rarely tell our parents we love them, but we spare no time in shooting ‘I Love You’s off our mouths to our partners, even though our parents are (will still be) the ones who stood by us since the day we were born. Even though it’s our parents who overcame challenges for us in bringing us up and having to deal with our bad behaviours and hurtful words in the heat of the moments.
I’m glad we made up in the end, because after that event, my relationship with my parents improved. We are able to share more with each other.
What If You Received A Letter From Your Mother?
We all come from families of different backgrounds.
Some of you may have complete family with loving parents and enjoy lots of attention while some may still feel no one understands you. There are others who may come from single parent families and share much closer relationships with their parent. On the other hand, some might go through tough childhood and have to be more matured by situation.
But what if you received a letter from your mother today? What would it look like?
Would you want it to be a sad heart-wrenching one? Or one that said she is proud of who you are?
What do you think would be the content of that letter? Would you be able to imagine what she would say in that letter?
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