Category Archives: Family

Icing on the cake

Some nights ago, during dinner with my family, my father asked me how the job-I-no-longer-have was going, and if I were overworked, underworked or neutral. As he did not know at that point that I was just a day away from leaving the job, I said it was neutral, mainly because I had slipped into autopilot mode and the work consisted mostly of brainless data entry. Then he said, “Then I don’t think this job is for you. You may want to consider looking for a new one.”

So I blurted, “Well, now that you mention it, I do have a new one!” Then I told him exactly what I would be doing come August, and then braced myself for the declarations of disappointment at my job-hopping and rashness, and threats of disownership.

Instead, my father said, almost to himself, “I think that would be the right kind of work for you. You have the talent, so you might as well do it.”

At that point I became somewhat confused. My father, who has spent most of my life convincing me that I would be doomed to fail in whatever I decided to do, was being supportive of my decision to leave the public relations profession and become a writer for a lifestyle magazine. He wasn’t ranting about how stupid I was being once again, how rash my decisions always were, and how I was throwing away a good career that I had more than the qualifications for. Even my mother, sitting at the dinner table with us, looked surprised.

I suppose his sentiments sort of stem from the high standards he placed on his children. Having been a big corporate figure himself, he thought that my first job back here, in a bank that he himself had worked in years ago, would be the best thing that could happen to me — until he realized that the environment of a government-linked corporation had not changed since the years he had been in one. And even when I left the bank to join an agency — the ‘other side’ of public relations — he still was not convinced it was the right job for me, not because, as I had assumed, it wasn’t with some other big corporation, but because even he knew that it wasn’t the kind of profession that I was, for lack of a better term, made for.

And so, it was after I had processed the conversation in my head that I realized I shouldn’t have had to be too surprised at my father’s reaction to my news. He was just being himself: totally unpredictable, and completely reliable when someone actually needs him to be. And that made all the difference in the world to me.

The very best part of the conversation was when, at the end, he said, “Who knows, maybe if you do well enough you could even be syndicated. You can write a book. Oh, I know — you should write a fictional book based on your new experience working in this country. You can call it The Social Climber.”

The transitional box

A lifetime (and more) of books

My household is going through a huge transition phase. After nearly 25 years of living in Subang Jaya, under the same roof, my family will be going our separate ways: my parents to their new riverside home, and I to the townhouse they bought me to ensure that neither they nor I would ever have to live with our in-laws — if we were to have any. To be honest, I think I would have been happy to live with them until or unless I get married, if they hadn’t decided that they would like to spend their remaining years living as far away from civilization as one can ever imagine (that would be Klang). Nevertheless, the transition is here and we have to hop on its coattails.

So the house is currently in a shambles. There are boxes, full, half-full and empty, everywhere, yards of newspaper lying around to wrap any breakables, and shipping tape getting stuck under everyone’s feet. My mother has spent the last few weeks going through old books to decide which ones should be recycled, which ones are to go to her new house or mine, and ancient birthday cards and letters that my grandparents kept from the time my own mother wrote to them as a child. She grumbles that they were hoarders and kept every last scrap they received, but I know that she will pack them all away and bring them with her.

Having moved to Subang Jaya when I was barely 2 years old, my earliest memory of it involves me falling down while holding a glass that someone was stupid enough to put in my hand, and cutting my wrist. The scar has since been covered up by my tattoo, but the memory, vague as it is, is there. I also remember the child-sized couch my father had ordered for me, to match the adults’ sofa set, and the baby cot that had been mine in our very first house in Cheras, later occupied by my brother when my parents brought him home from the hospital.

My brother on the baby couch

I also remember leaving the house and coming back to it over the next few years in my life. We moved around a lot, thanks to my father’s job, and no matter where in the world we moved to, we always came back to the house in Subang Jaya, putting it through several furniture makeovers and coats of paints. Even after I left for Buffalo, things never changed — except when my mother informed me over the phone that they had bought a new piece of land and were planning to build a house on it. But still it seemed as though nothing would change: my brother took over my room while I was gone, and relinquished it when I moved back, leaving me right where my life started, and where I felt it would come to an end.

The early years

I think I first felt that things were really going to change when my father announced that he had sold the house, not long after he bought the townhouse for me. No doubt I had been looking forward to living on my own, but in my mind, home had always, always been Subang Jaya, because I was much too young to remember being in the Cheras house at all. And then, a few days ago, when my mother said that the enormous cabinet that had been built into the wall in our upstairs hall would be given to her cousin, I gave myself a headache trying to imagine how that wall would look empty.

Now, mere weeks away from moving to our new houses, we have become tenants in our own house, as it now officially belongs to the man who bought it from my father, and we have been allowed to remain in it until the end of July while we get the new houses ready. In these last weeks running up to the day of the Big Move, I will likely be catapulting from frustration over packing (which I have barely begun), to excitement over moving, to sadness over leaving the only real home that I have ever known.

I am because you were

 

Three generations of Audrey Hepburn fans

On Mother’s Day last year, I thought about the things my mother had taught me when I was growing up that she swore would ensure I would grow up to be a self-sufficient — if a little self-possessed — human being.

This year, I realize, though not for the first time, how much I really have to be grateful for, having been privy to some of the worst parenting skills I have ever seen over the past year or so. And I have not only my mother to be grateful to, but her mother as well, for teaching me so many things that I would never have learned had I been left to my own devices.

If not for my grandmother, whose Growing Up Essentials kit included fairy tales, nursery rhymes, classic literature and Golden Hollywood movies and musicals, I would never have learned the meaning of timelessness, nor the values and lessons behind the stories she made sure I could read by the time I was 2 years old. I would also probably never have known who  the likes of Charles Perrault, Enid Blyton and Audrey Hepburn were, and the qualities they brought to life that so very very few people have these days.

If not for my mother, who believes in following your passions and doing what makes you the happiest, I would never have found my voice, or learned to use it. I would never have learned to always try and put others first, or to keep my chin up at all costs when I hit the lowest points in my life. I would never have sighed and grumbled through daily etiquette lessons, or grown up knowing the difference between a salad fork and dessert fork.

If not for the both of them, I would not be the way I am now: what they had both grown up to be and what they knew they had to make sure I became. And for that, I would never trade anything in the world, and I will always be grateful to them.

Happy Mother’s Day!