She is an attractive woman. There was always a grace and femininity about her that I wished I had. Was it something she grew into or was she born with it? She was, and still is, very photogenic. If the camera really does not lie, then it has revealed my mother as a lovely woman, someone who isn't afraid to show herself to the camera. Her perfect features - perfect to me - and a certain openness about her makes her an ideal subject.
It is only now, as an adult, that I can fully appreciate her beauty. Maybe I am stretching it a bit but I don't think so.
She is far from perfect, of course, as I grew to find out over the years. Her childhood years and upbringing are still a bit of a mystery to me but I realised that it wasn't always easy. And she came away from all that with an unusual grace and wisdom.
While I was growing up, I was aware that my mother loved fine clothes and perfume and make-up. Oh, and jewelry, from diamonds to delicate jade. She loved fine jewelry and they, too, loved being adorned on her fair skin.
My mother and I are opposites for I never appreciated nor enjoyed jewelry the way she did. She looked pretty wearing the different pieces of jewelry but I could never see myself wearing the necklaces or rings. It all seemed too fussy to me and something I've never really understood. During my twenties, I wore a gold bracelet for a while because my mother had given it to me plus it also reflected my Chinese heritage. That was important to me too. There was even a ring which she designed as a young woman (complete with a tiny cross, pearl and heart) that seemed dainty enough even for me. I wore it for a while because I wanted to. It also seemed almost rebellious, somehow, because of its design, for someone like me. It once belonged to my mother, and I wanted to wear what was once hers.
I do appreciate certain pieces of jewelry, especially pearls and the smaller stones, and actually prefer them, if I have to prefer something. Tiny. I like tiny. Simple elegance, if there is such a thing. Wearing a piece of jewelry made one stand out, but even then, I didn't want to stand out too much. It should enhance, not overwhelm. I realised some time ago that I did have a mind of my own, after all, and knew what I liked. And that I shouldn't be afraid of expressing my opinion. Growing older can be rather liberating, I suppose. But even after having said all that, I am mostly left unadorned. My mother was the one who always knew how to accessorise her outfits and she never went overboard, complete with make-up and a delicate scent. It would be nice if I had learned something along the way. And I think I have.
Perhaps I also see my mother and I as opposites partly because of my dark complexion as a child for I browned so easily. My father was dark as well so I didn't mind as I was obviously my father's daughter. But it didn't help during my younger days when I wished that I was as fair as my mother. She seemed to favour certain childhood friends of mine who were also fair and lovely. Or my cousin's intelligence. I never considered myself fair nor lovely. And I certainly wasn't very intelligent during my teens. It was a difficult period. I loved my mother. I hated my mother. I loved my mother.
When I was about twenty-one, she and I attended a Catholic retreat program which was about being detached from the things of this world. She was either sweeping the floor or doing something else at home and one of her diamond ear-rings must have fallen off. She seemed rather troubled by it and asked if I'd seen it and was even using a broom to see if she could sweep it out of its hiding place. I mentioned something about being detached and I believe the woman looked daggers at me and even her scolding had a certain sting to it as only she could. But hadn't we been attending a retreat which talked about such detachment? Very much later on, upon reflection, I wondered if she was really so attached to that diamond ear-ring or was she attached to the memory of my father, who had given her those diamond ear-rings. He was already deceased for a few years by then and she had even mentioned him during one of the retreat sessions as she used to wear his wedding ring next to hers on the same finger. She knew she had to let go so she removed his ring and wore hers alone. Oh, my mother. How you must have missed him.
My mother was always keen to learn new cooking techniques and new dishes. She even attended a cooking course and would come home with one or two desserts for her children to sample. We looked forward to those nights. Maybe it was also her way of keeping busy so that she wouldn't miss our father so much. And self-improvement was always a good thing.
She is a woman who looks to the future and makes the most of the present. I wonder if her attitude has anything to do with her upbringing, with her own life experiences. As for me, I tend to dwell on my mistakes and on past experiences. She helped to mould me. My father did too. So maybe it is no wonder that she and I are not totally alike. She had her own hard lessons whilst growing up. And I know it was not always a bed of roses when my father was still alive.
My mother isn't perfect. She never was. She is loving, and compassionate, and open to learning new things. I, too, am loving - I am not as demonstrative as my mother but that seems to be slowly changing - and compassionate, and there are times when I am somewhat reluctant to learn new things. I know that I want to but at the same time, I am afraid. Self-doubt gets in the way. Did my mother ever experience such fear? Did she ever doubt herself? Or did she just face it head on and went on with life, business as usual?
She was an innocent beauty at eighteen for that was how I saw her. I was shy and rather awkward at eighteen. She married my father when she was twenty. I never even dated when I was twenty. Crushes came and went but the dating never even started until I was about twenty-one.
She grew up without a father until she was twelve years old. Her mother got married and not only did a foster father enter my mother's life but she also converted to Catholicism (because he was Catholic). I had a father from the time I was born until I was seventeen. I was also a cradle Catholic. There were times when my mother's faith impressed me. What about my faith as the supposedly evolved, or still evolving, adult that I now am?
If my mother wasn't the perfect nor ideal mother, I certainly wasn't the perfect nor ideal daughter. We've both come a long way since then. Even though there were times when I missed having a sister, especially an older sister, it was quite a special experience to be the only daughter, to be able to share and enjoy as only a mother and daughter can. My mother loved me. She still loves me.
It's true. Love is powerful. It may be misguided at times but it is powerful.
I still think of us as opposites mostly because I still long to wear a genuine jade bangle such as the one that she wears on her delicate wrist. It wouldn't be the same, I know, as I am not as fair and graceful as she is. But a jade bangle is only a thing. Surely there are more important things to consider or wonder about. Surely I couldn't be that superficial. Maybe I am, even a little bit. But it represents something else. Childhood, perhaps.
A time long ago when my complexion was darker, wanting to be grown-up and trying on my mother's shoes and being delighted when they finally fit. Then they didn't fit anymore as my feet grew to be larger than my mother's. My feet were no longer small and they certainly weren't dainty. Not to me. And I wasn't even much taller than my mother. That was an eye-opening experience.
Wearing the top half of her frilly pyjama set, liking the feel of the soft material, wanting to feel like a grown-up even though I was only ten or eleven years old. I always liked most of my mother's clothes even if I could never wear them.
Going through her jewelry box, as a child and even later as a young adult, fascinated with its contents only because they belonged to my mother.