I Have No Photograph with A Woman I Call Mother

Recently, I shared a story about my journey of being a nomad. I listed down many aspects that created the person I am today. Several times, I mentioned about my childhood, my origin, and my father. Yet, I precluded mentioning my mother. I didn’t do it for no reason; I deliberately postponed her appearance since I wanted to make it personal through these words.

So folks, allow me to ask you, if you had a chance to travel back into the past, what was your favourite moment with someone you call Mother that you want to revive?


As a starter, I’ll tell you mine. My everlasting memory with my mother was one moment when she picked me up from kindergarten. It was just an ordinary day when she came to meet me at the school gate. As we were leaving the building, she asked me about what kind of hand-work I have made (typical activity for 5 year old pupils) and what kind of lunch the cafeteria had served me. Then, when we were going to cross the street, as always, she held my hand and guided me to walk among the passing automobiles. Afterwards, we walked along a pathway that mapped throughout the city park, heading back to her office where I would wait her until she finishes her working hours.

Being a five year old girl that is only three feet tall, I tried twice harder to keep up with my mother’s steps as she walked rapidly. Down under my ankles, pink ribbons and little bells sewn to my socks rang briskly following my moves. It was not due the heavy task of walking fast but after the last question about my lunch, we no longer talk. The atmosphere had then turned into our silent race with time until my Mom burst into a laughter.

I was bewildered and asked her, “Why did you laugh?”

My mother replied, “It’s nothing. A funny moment when my friend said something ludicrous at office this morning just popped into my head.”

It was a typical busy brain activity that adults sometimes encounter as I understood now. Yet, at that time, my mind couldn’t comprehend it and it left me perplexed. My immature brain even thought that she’s a bit insane. Nevertheless, I still managed to enjoy our walking together since the trees were there, marching up to halt the bright sun ray from the two pedestrians. Across the park, the noise of traffic jam didn’t bother us for it was sublimed by the sound of chanting birds that were flying between branches.


It was in the 90s…

A decade later, we were separated. There was a time when we still stayed under the same roof. However, I could not recall another fine day I spent with my mother, alone. I grew up and she was somewhere between courting with her job while raising my four siblings. Being the first child, I had to show independence and wisdom. I found difficulties in meeting that expectation. Yet, the struggle paid off because it forged me into a bold person. In my late teens, I was brave enough to decide my own path, where I wanted to go and what I wanted do for living, something that many young Asians couldn’t manage decide. I barely involved her in my decision nor did I tell her about my personal life. I was discouraged to show my vulnerable side. I was not able to sit next to her, to hold her, or to lean on her shoulder just to tell her that today, I went through a tough day. A couple of fights drifted us even further away. So, should there be a flaw inside this person, it was the fragility that hides behind the strong-looking personality. Turns out, I was more likely a sprinter that hardly reaches a yellow ribbon waiting ahead at the finish line. Sometimes in the weekend, I slept over my cousin’s place. Since in the outer circle, I was able to be a little a girl once again.

My adolescence tale was indeed full of contradictions and I didn’t sit here to make you confused with this article’s heading and the content I’m trying to deliver. Neither I come here to boast about my story with my mother that sounds unbecoming. But it’s simply because she deserves one recognition.

As I mentioned recently, being a nomad had brought me to embracing values that matter to me nowadays. One of the values was my attitude to how I perceive my mother’s role. My solitary life in Jakarta allowed me to put more attention on social construction dictates womens’ role. Along with a plethora of opportunities that arrived with the movement of gender equality, the task is going bigger for women who aspire to come down to the field that has been occupied by men. It is a relief that women today get a lot of help both from media and community group concerning how to deal with traditional role and achievement at work. Information about parenting can be accessed easily on the internet so that the children won’t be left abandoned, let alone lost in their teens. Technology has emerged beyond imagination resulting in a digital photo-gallery that tells a better story than daily conversations about mother and daughter relationship. However, it was different in my mother’s era.

In the early 90s, media was controlled in Indonesia. Access to ultra-leftist media channels that might promote non-traditional values were limited. Contents were carefully curated to suit political lean or values of the nationalists before being broadcasted. Meanwhile the advent of internet didn’t give significant impact for us, the ordinary people. As an avid television viewer, I can recall that there was limited talk-show programme or forums to talk about womanhood. Talking further about technology, camera was a lavish thing that was only used in formal occasions. My dad used to keep his camera safe in a drawer and took it out during family gathering or birthday parties. There was no ordinary day wherein this optical instrument could capture an ordinary moment that communicates human connection without pretension.

As the external environment wasn’t conducive, so was’t the internal environment. In this era, traditions and customs merely taught women how to excel in their socially-constructed role. When it comes to equality or emancipation, they were deceived or alienated, like an unattended lighthouse standing among the waves and cliffs. Bewildering in pacing their feet between full time job, adherence to husband, devotedness to children, and involvement in social life. It was not surprising that even a Yale graduate, Mrs. Clinton was under-pressure when public urged her to pick side between modern and traditional role.

woman behind curtain.jpg

The brief mention of Hillary’s life summed up the story in which I started to see my mother’s position from a different perspective. Instead of confronting her why we didn’t have the romantic mother and daughter relationship and because of which I couldn’t find a photograph with her. I should have considered the challenges she has been through during her tenor of rising five children amidst a different cultural background while working full time at national institution.

As a woman, she had experienced five times of being in a situation between live and death when trying to give birth to my siblings and I. Rather than attending pregnancy exercise to ease the labour pain, she was given a bottle of mystical water to make the labouring process run smoothly. On a daily basis, it must have been daunting to wake up at 5 a.m to serve breakfast, take care of two growing up teenagers and three younger children plus a husband while thinking about her job desk that was waiting in the office. Even though me and my brothers used to be at her office during our childhood, we were too young to understand how hectic her working schedule was, how demanding her boss had been to her, nor how big the amount of bills that she had to settle because at night, when the life reminds her of her duty as a mother, she must comeback with a smile concealing her weary look to get wet in the kitchen, preparing for dinner.

Back in her time, there was no “Me Time” that every woman deserves. A privilege to indulge herself in a relaxing spa salon or simply to get her nails manicured is too fancy since at the time she had pledged to the institution called marriage, a whole-life duty with no pause in the weekend. A wedding anniversary party that could have helped rejuvenate her smile was almost absent. Besides, we don’t really have the tradition here. Society did not let you to showcase romance in public, which again got me wonder, what am I gonna do if it happens to me? Maybe, I would just leave.  She could have done that as well, pack her bag or demand her right as a free individual. Instead, she chose to deal with it. Rather than leaving, she stayed to bake a piece of sponge cake in a tiny kitchen as where she’s always be. It is true that our relationship was less-documented and I used to assess her big task without better perspective or sympathy of being in her shoes. Sometimes, we were too busy growing up with our adolescence drama that we learnt from television. We were blinded by our youthful sparks for recognition and affection without comparing it to our mothers’ ageing backbones.


I am grateful that I made the decision to get out, moving to many islands and be in adventure. It exposes me to the reality, the diversity of human culture. It had made me understand how feelings, prejudice or even care could conceal the real meaning of human connection. During my free time, I occasionally give her a phone call just to ask about her day. When we meet during a holiday, I often encourage myself to sit next to her and give her a back massage. The mist had shaded away and a clear common sense now prevails to see my mother as my goddess Athens who always hold my hand and lead me to cross the street.

Cheers 🙂

PS (Yes, PS never gets old, just like love letter): My Friend (Anna) and I are running a campaign to raise awareness in equal access to education and how collective action can generate a massive social impact. Please visit: https://150stationeryproject.com/ or Log onto: https://gogetfunding.com/150-stationery-project-2/ to see what we do. On this site, we believe that talents are not rare. In fact, everyone has it!

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