I did my best to stifle the tears, yet they rolled down my cheeks nonetheless. Early this morning as I had coffee at a nearby cafe, a mother, father, grandmother and a cherished youngster held my attention at the table next to me… they also stirred my emotions.
There was much animated chatter and loveable preening of the boy’s haircut, but it was also what the adorable six-year old was doing that struck me. He was playing, and conversing… not one phone or device in sight.
Ralph – his parents would insist he introduced himself – was climbing, then descending his toy dinosaur through the air with great imagination. The memories of my own three sons at that same age flooded over me and after a short conversation with the family, I donned my sunglasses as the tears welled. It’s rather been like that since before Mother’s Day, this previous Sunday.
Please don’t misunderstand, I simply cannot imagine being anywhere else at this moment in time. I’m in Penang for a self-imposed, month-long stay of research for a new novel. I understand there may be a few eyebrows raised. Why would I be on my lonesome so far from home, even if I do have a network of friends here in George Town. Without question, mostly my friends have been supportive of my decision to remain in Asia a little longer. And what of my own family? I couldn’t ask for more blessings and encouragement.
Still as Mother’s Day approached, despite their unwavering support for my endeavour, the odd doubt crept in… the guilt of being so far away both from them, even from my own mother. To be fair, our sons do not all live in the same city, all not even in the same country. As a family, we continuously make it work from afar and with two girlfriends enriching our family thus far, our closeness wherever we all may be in the world does not waver.
And so it was as if the universe read my yearning for those days when we were always a physical family unit. Just before Mother’s Day, I found myself befriended by children… both young and older. As I ventured to a pop-up Sunday market, I quickly met the charming Lulu and as if sensing my melancholy, she eagerly joined me as I lunched. Under the shade of an outstretched frangipani tree, she elaborated on my Butterfly Pea drink and my colourful Nasi Ulum. Then, Lulu shared some of her inner most thoughts about school.
“I’m bored,” she told me scrunching up her cherub-like face. “They’re just not that smart there,” she lamented, then dashed off to her mother’s small stationery/gift shop for a few minutes. She would rejoin me, off and on, off and on… simply, my heart felt like it was being caressed with childlike joy.
Lulu then revealed that her family was only herself and her mother. “But that’s alright,” she said with the wisdom of someone much older, “we are happy.”
Another two girls chatted after they had chased bubbles and played tag on an expanse of grass. They then joyfully posed for a photograph, as did a lovely young lady, and once again I suppressed my emotions. It is like that at times… the intrinsic pull of maternal love when you see your own children in others around you.
And then, a young man about the age of my own sons, caught my attention. Happy in his own world, quietly weaving bracelets, I crouched down to say hello. Where was he was from? What was he making and was he earning enough for a living as he travelled? His eyes told me ‘no’ and as I chose a bracelet, I asked if I could leave my take-away from lunch beside his makeshift workshop. And I knew… many miles away, someone too was missing him.
When Mother’s Day did arrive the following week, I was festooned with messages from all of mine, and those cherished girlfriends too. What came through very poignantly was just how proud they were that I was following my dreams and my passion… reminding me of what I already knew to be true.
Still, sometimes, it is glorious to hear those beautiful words from your children and let them re-wrap your heart with love…