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Becoming My Mother

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What shaped you and made you who you are? When did you become the “you” that you are today?

I didn’t grow up with a huge sense of longing for achievement, or innate confidence that I could do anything I wanted to do. When I tell people I meet now that I really was quite meek in my youth, no one believes me. I was not born a badass, guns blazing my way through my teens, piercings, tattoos and an attitude—that’s what they would’ve expected.

I was a really good girl. A little cheeky, a little spoilt, but not terribly precocious.

Through my boarding school years in England, I was still very much an embryo. I went along with everyone else, followed the flow towards the bad poodle mullet (those pictures will never be published). When boys made double-entendres, they completely flew over my head. I cringe now when I think of one boy at school being called “Dong.” I didn’t know it meant anything. I just thought it was his nickname. And me, outside the Masters’ Common Room, yelling “Dong! Dong!” and the boys around me falling about laughing. Oh mamma.

I think I started getting a little confident in university, and I think it was because of my first serious relationship. Having essentially been on my own since going to boarding school at thirteen—a Chinese girl from Singapore in a sea of English girls, and later, English girls and boys, finding an anchor with someone else was really … empowering. I didn’t think that at the time; I was still very much a follower.

In fact, it wasn’t till my thirties that I came into my own. When life had, along the way, broken my spirit on more than one occasion and I had to fight to put myself together again. The version I made every time was tougher than the one before. 

Frankly my dears, we all know now that that’s just casing, a protective veneer. Everything we have experienced and lived through is etched in us, no matter how tough we think the lacquer is that we’ve painted on the top.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Not true. It just doesn’t kill you.

But those experiences of hurt did forge my personality. I had to learn just what I was capable of.

In my twenties, pain was just pain. I had no tools to deal with it. I had no idea how it would go away. I remember one particular heartbreak; I so wanted my mum. And when she hugged me and I cried, I couldn’t believe the pain didn’t just go away, like when I was a kid. What in your childhood teaches you how to deal with hurt on your own? 

Isn’t it amazing how life shapes us? I was a good little girl who somewhere along the way, learned to roar like a lion. If you had told me through all that heartache that out of that would emerge a self-assured, self-reliant, resourceful, funny, stubborn and independent spirit I would never have believed it. I’ve learned in my darkest times that when things are tough, when I’m focussing on what I don’t have, what my life was not, I never think that I can’t be anything I want to be. 

Because I was sure when I was a teen fighting against Mum, I would never become my mother, and that I wouldn’t want to be. And you know what? I have become as brave, strong, and obstinate as my mum. And I like it.


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