It's been a while, but I remember asking my dad...
"Pa, why can't you go get your own food? Why is it that amma has to always put the food on your plate and hand it to you, for you to eat?"
He said, "This is love. You'll not understand it."
I was around 15 or 16 then. It has been over 10 years now, and never have I seen my dad putting food for my mum and handing it over to her as she watched Netflix all day.
I started wondering.
Is it love, or love mixed with years and years of embedded patriarchy?
This only sunk in deeper as the Movement Control Order (MCO) started and my relationship with my mum took a turn. We grew a lot closer just planning our duties ahead, as we were both "in charge" of feeding our family members. Either we cooked, or there was NO FOOD for anyone at home.
Do bear in mind that we were both working from home.
My mum has been a working mother for years and she balances this with all the chores there are at home. After close to three decades, I witnessed the struggles of a mother/daughter when I watched my mum and aunt as they took care of my family and my grandma.
My mum and I took turns to run to the kitchen with our laptops. It was either me doing the prepping and her doing the cooking, or vice versa. It was either her doing the laundry and me doing the drying, or vice versa.
In the midst of all this, we both had to work. There were days my mother skipped lunch after cooking for the rest, cause she had meetings starting at 1pm.
My aunt wakes up at 5am every weekday to cook for my grandma who is now alone at home without my grandpa. She cooks lunch, ensures grandma has her breakfast, prepares my grandma's morning and afternoon meds, applies eye drops for my grandma, before heading off to work.
I can say that I was ignorant for years, taking the 'understood' duties of my mum for granted. Many of us have been and some still are.
The Asian culture of mothers and daughters carrying the (invisible) weight of families, providing for their needs, and trying to feed themselves in the midst of all that is.... painful.
I remember in English Vinglish, the lead actress would say:
When men cook, it's art. When women cook, it's their duty.
I always knew my mum absolutely loved that movie, but I am seeing more and more why she loved it.
I loved my grandparents so much as a couple. They were adorable.
But only after grandpa passed on, my grandma shared on how she struggled as a wife to a typical Asian man, having to perform all the duties of a 'standard' Asian wife while also working and supporting the family.
This is the result of years and years of culture
It is safe to say that patriarchy is a part of the Asian culture.
This is not something that would change overnight, but I can't wait to wake up one day and watch my mum, aunt, and all the hard-working mothers, daughters, and sisters, sitting at home and knitting or baking or picking up on the hobbies that they set aside for their families (all their lives).
That is my dream.
My dream is to provide a life like that for my mum, and tell her "Amma, now you rest".
My dream is for mothers and daughters and sisters to be appreciated more.
This story is a personal essay by the writer. You too can submit a story as a SAYS reader by emailing us at [email protected]