Today is International Woman’s Day!
I could pontificate about what makes a modern woman or the international women who most inspire me or how far women have come today. But let’s not bore you with the obvious. As I meditated on what it takes to be a woman these days, the image of my maternal grandmother pops into my head. So today, let’s talk about this innocuous woman who has quietly, steadily and unwaveringly shown me what being a woman is all about.
This woman is my maternal grandmother or 婆婆 (popo) as I call her. 婆婆 was one of those women from our founding fathers’ generation – strong, resilient, opinionated, and spirited. She was a work-at-home mom (WAHM) before these terms WAHM and SAHM (stay-at-home moms) became household names.
She had five children (3 boys and 2 girls) to raise on her own and did not want to outsource that responsibility to others. But she had to work as money was tight (for most people then). So she took on sewing projects to keep the family afloat; and worked from home to stay close to her children.
My uncles and aunts used to share stories of how she would put them to bed and sew till the wee hours of the night. Catching a few winks, she would be up by six the next morning to make breakfast for them and get them ready for school. Now that’s what I call dedication. Today, most of us have maids to get our kids ready for school.
Even though the family had to tighten their belts often, 婆婆 was very resourceful and creative in her money management skills. Her children were never hungry, and they were always sensibly clothed – hand-me downs from siblings or new ones that 婆婆 sewed from the left over material from her projects. Education was a priority for all her children (even the girls), but she never forced them beyond what they could do.
As a grandmother, she was kind, loving and fair. She was closer to one or two of my cousins, but she always made all her nine grandchildren feel special and loved. We remember fondly the weekly Saturday dinners at her home in Ghim Moh. (Why do dinners made by grandmothers always taste so good? Someone once told me its the added invisible ingredient of love in the cooking process.)
And we always look forward to the weekly sleepover at 婆婆’s when we were older kids. While we hung out or played games, 婆婆 would sew away while keeping an eye on her favourite local Chinese serial drama on TV. Then, she would send us to bed and we obey willingly because there was always the promise of a scrumptious breakfast at the local market the next morning.
婆婆 led an active, fruitful and productive life. She kept herself busy taking care of her family members – 5 children, 9 grandchildren, their spouses and 10 great-grandchildren. Some years ago, she passed on peacefully. But the wisdom that she’s imparted over the years has definitely left an indelible mark on all of us.
And I’m sharing these nuggets of treasures with you ladies out there…
- Buy Gold, it’s a good investment – Every year, 婆婆 spends some of her money to buy gold. Not for herself, but for her children, grandchildren, the “future” spouses of these grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. She believes that gold can be a woman’s armour in a troubled marriage and a source of security against any unpredictable events in a woman’s life. Boy, was she right!! I kick myself everyday now for not paying more attention to this bit of wisdom. Looking at the gold prices today (there’s been a 60% increase in the prices since this piece of advice, sigh…), it’ll be a long while before I can afford any gold.
- Marry someone who loves you MORE – This is very good advice if you are single or dating someone. Choose your husband carefully and be discerning in your choice of life-partner – peel off the surface and look deeper. Choose someone with character, someone willing to stay for the long haul, someone who will love you even when you are at your worst form. (My husband has seen me in my most drunken state and when I was most ill-tempered and still loves me enough to marry me. Now, that’s a keeper!)
- Have a family – if MCYS (Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports) was ever looking for a spokesperson to encourage marriage and family, they’ll not find a better one than 婆婆. She was always urging us to find a good man (see point 2), settle down and start procreating. “What good is all the money in the world if you don’t have children?” she asks (By the way, it’s a rhetorical question and any attempt to answer will be met by an exasperated “harrumph” from her.)
- Surround yourself with “sisters” – 婆婆 is a socialite in her golden years, so much so that my cousin who lives with her moans that her social life is meagre compare to 婆婆’s. That’s because of 婆婆’s strong network of sisterhood or 姐妹 whom she has either “known all her life” or “come from the same village/neighbourhood.” Forget about the Chinese drama serial on TV, just ask 婆婆 what’s going on with her sisters… there’s never a dull moment.
- Be Adventurous, get out there – Don’t be afraid to try new things. Imagine an old lady in her late-60s who does not speak a word of English, board an aeroplane, fly 17-odd hours to San Francisco to visit her 姐妹. Alone. By herself. Now that’s what I call “gutsy” and also very adventurous. That’s my 婆婆!
Happy Being a Woman Day! Share with us a woman in your life who impresses the bejesus out of you.