“The streets of London have their map, but our passions are uncharted”
Mother’s Day is one of those special kind of Hallmark holidays prescribed to appreciate mother’s for all the hard work they do and celebrate the role they play in their children’s and husband’s lives. For many, it’s a day filled with relaxation, homemade cards from the kids, and maybe some kind of celebratory outing. It’s a time for Dad to do the planning and forget the most important essentials, like the paper cups for your picnic or the diapers for your youngest. It’s a time for the kids to let you sleep in past 7am and beam with pride when they show you the list they made at school that says your favorite drink is wine and you’re really good at making pasta from the box. For mom’s, it’s a chance to marvel at how they’ve all grown so fast or how suddenly there’s so many… and how did that happen? It’s a chance to remember what life was like before they were in it, and to celebrate your role in their lives because motherhood is, for real, the hardest job. It is one that can, at any time, return you to that overwhelming “new mom” phase even after years and years. It’s a chance to be kind to yourself for all the times you thought “I can’t do this” and for all the times you pushed through the chaos and made it to bedtime only to see their little angel faces sleeping soundly. It’s a chance to remember that while motherhood is hard, so is being a child, and to be able to trek that journey with them is the greatest gift any mom could be given. It’s a chance to remember that we don’t do it alone, this whole motherhood thing, we do it with the help of so many which requires us to “let go” of some of the expectations we hold for ourselves, to ask for help and to accept it.
For me, I can’t remember a Mother’s Day where I haven’t been showered with love and celebrated in a way that Hallmark intended. But when I think back on my 9th year of being a mother, I’m starkly aware of how different it was this year not only because we are living 8,000 miles away from the village that shaped me into the mom I am, but because this year I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the new village of moms I have met in Hong Kong, who have welcomed me with open and compassionate arms. As mother’s we are all our own worst critic, and the power of other moms has the capacity to provide healing and positive momentum in a world that sometimes sets us up for failure. This Mother’s Day I am more thankful than ever.
But there is one more; my helper.
Marge joined our family shortly after we arrived in Hong Kong as our live in help; a helper is a cultural norm across Asia and widely valued in all kinds of homes. A large percentage of helpers come to Hong Kong from the Philippines, many of them leaving their own children at home to live and work in another country, often caring for young children and performing the daily household chores that used to take up so much time and energy back in the U.S. Having her join our family has been an adjustment for me, not because I haven’t happily given up laundry and dishes, chores I haven’t done since last fall, but because my role as a mother used to be partly defined by these daily rituals where I used to live, for better or worse.
I remember when Marge first came to us and she told me she would be ironing during the evenings. She asked me if it was ok to hand wash and iron Jack’s clothes for work along with the kids school uniforms. The exchange between us was something uniquely disconnected. I did not understand and appreciate the importance of clothes that were no longer wrinkled, and Marge did not recognize my inclination to “let go” of this small detail. For her it was about being helpful and taking something off my plate. For me, it was introducing this new (and rather foreign) chore into our daily lives. Did I even have an iron? Or an IRONING BOARD?! You see, what she did not understand was that before her help, many of these tasks had fallen off my “to do list” or were deemed unnecessary to spare my sanity, and now that she was here the “to do list” grew in a way that was actually achievable because I was willing to accept her help. Since then, Marge and I have had many conversations with the same theme in mind, some of them more tense and personal than others, as I recognized a deep and almost primal reaction in myself. “I am their mother”, which in my mind was defined by the need to do everything, and her response, “I am a mother, too”, which said she was perfectly positioned to help when I needed it most. This year, because of her help, I became more engaged at work, traveled (on my own – a luxury I have not afforded myself in years), and rediscovered myself in a new and foreign place.
My expanded feelings of motherhood are now partially measured upon how she may feel, and not lost on the fact that she has also made choices or has had choices made for her. Life is not measured by our lot, but rather by the choices we make.
This year has been a haul, with each special moment feeling a little bit like a victory, coupled with a growing resilience in each of us. For every hard moment we made it through, for every time I told them it would “all be ok, just remember where we came from it will help guide you where we are going”, I realized that there is a part of me letting go in order to hang on. My thinking has shifted. Instead of a self-defeating mindset of stretching myself too thin, I restructured the way I care for myself so that I can care for my children. This concept of self-care is something I often talked to clients about, and one in which I rarely acted upon for myself in the past.
Now that we are 8 months in to a life I never expected, we are hitting a stride. The five of us have connected on the hard stuff like dealing with pollution, homesickness, and goodbyes, and relished in moments like making new friends, celebratory occasions, and travel. Some have had that push and pull effect, like learning a new language and easing into a new school, making a home and keeping our American values. Life is, by definition, imperfect and unfinished; I am embracing the imperfect and enjoying the unfinished.
This year I am thinking of all kinds of moms: those who became a mother unexpectedly, those who have lost and tried again with or without success, those who have welcomed children who needed a mother into their hearts, those who help care for another mother’s children in order to provide for their own, those who are expecting their first and those who are thankful they’ve had their last, those who stay at home and those who go to work, and all those in between. To the village of moms, grandmothers, aunts, sisters (both blood and bonded), and helpers, we are in this together.