This Sunday is Mother’s Day in France. This year I decided to do something a bit different than the usual flowers. I decided I’d write and express what I have always been too proud to tell my mum: gratitude, admiration and love.
It’s not an easy piece as I know I’m going to get teary,which is another thing I inherited from my mum 🙁
So let’s start with a bit of a biography so you can appreciate how difficult her life has been and how well she has been fighting and coping with her plight to raise two happy successful daughters.
Childhood in a modest family in Vietnam torn by war.
What she’s been telling me a lot since I was very little, was her personal story. My mum was born in 1949 in Vietnam, in a small town 40 km from Saigon. Her mum had a modest restaurant and her dad was often out for weeks in the forest cutting and carrying wood. She had five sisters and one brother. She was the one in charge since her elder sister had a mental disease. She had to look after the health and education of her siblings plus help her mum at the restaurant and study to create a brighter future for herself.
Recently she was telling my children how hard it was on her final year of high school as between the family restaurant and studying she didn’t have time for her own meals. She was telling them how at her final exams she had lost 10 kg vs the picture she took at the beginning of the year so at each test she had to come 30 min early and explain and justify it was really her.
She always believed in education as the only way to a better life. She used to hear bombs flying above her head and wondering each time where it would land. She knew she had to find a way to leave her country. She found that the French were granting scholarships for students to enrol into French universities so she studied even harder and successfully passed the test.
Hardship as a student in France
Once she arrived in France she discovered cold winters. She was studying Economics in Paris and it was tough as her French wasn’t that great. Unlike most Vietnamese students in France back then, she didn’t attend a French school in Vietnam. Plus she had to work as a waitress so she could send money to her family in Vietnam. It was all work, no play. She then met other Vietnamese students like her, one of those was my dad. He too had 6 siblings he had to look after, he too was from a modest family, he too got a scholarship to study in France.
They got married, had my sister and then they had me. They went back to visit Vietnam over short holidays in 1974 just before the Communists won the war and had then lived away from their families for another 20 years. Then they started visiting Vietnam again once in 1995 with my sister and then every year since the mid 2000’s. My Mum’s mother died of a cancer when my mum was in her mid thirties (my age now gulp) and her Dad probably in the 80’s. I never met them, just saw pictures and wrote them a few letters.
What my mum gave to me
1. Her time
She understood it was the only thing that could help us improve our quality of life. She decided not to work outside of home and focus on my sister and I. She pushed us to always be the best in class and fought for us to go to the best public school in our area. She was always there. She couldn’t really tutor us, in particular with French subject but she was there to listen to us, support us and provide all of the below.
2. The meaning of hard work
My sister and I got served her personal story many times a day. We were fully aware we were lucky to be born in a peaceful country, had a home with running water, food every day and even some toys! My Dad still tells my children how back in his days they had to use bottle lids as toys and if ever one boy had a little car everyone would be totally amazed. My youngest son must have over 50 hot wheels cars and he still fights for the one his brother picks 🙁 My parents made us understand that our current “comfortable lives” was possible thanks to their hard work and that we had no excuse to just study as we didn’t even have a whole household to look after like they did. My mum also jam packed my schedule so I had music lessons, tennis lessons, vietnamese lessons, in a true Tiger Mum style, to make sure I could handle the volume of work, discover new skills, and get a cultural exposure she never had.
As a result my sister got her Ph. D in the US where she met her husband and I landed in a top French Business School where… I met my husband!!
3. How to be kind
What has impressed me in the last few years is my mum’s ability to see people as they are, with their flaws and qualities, without ever judging them. Everyone is in a different situation, you never know what have happened to them and what motivates them to act or think a certain way. Now I understand why she was hating it when as a teenager I was spending hours on the phone gossiping with my friends! And it wasn’t just the phone bill!
4. How to be forgiving
From what she tells me, many people have taken advantage of her kindness. She was also treated quite badly by her mother in law every time she was visiting. But she knew my grand mother didn’t have long to live so she went beyond all the hurting comments and made sure she had an enjoyable end of life and that my Dad could spend nice memorable last moments with his mother who had always been very tough to him.
5. Listening skills
Well she talks a lot, especially with me. So I certainly took that bit from her but then when I give her a call I have to listen to her too and empathise. There’s so much going through her head: ideas, stories of the past etc… That’s my way to show I care and love her. On the other hand, she is a great listener with other friends. That’s why people like her. She doesn’t take side and just gives her time to make sure you feel better.
6. People and relationship skills
My mum loves to make friends, to find common interests with people she meets and then nurture relationships with thank you cards and small attentions. I love that too.
7. Easy tears
This one I dislike because my Dad didn’t allow us to cry. We had to be strong whatever happened to us, good or bad. I only cried when it was really hard or painful (like not getting straight A’s 😉 ). I never cried over a movie or positive emotions. Guess what? It all appeared when I got pregnant. I started crying when I was watching movies. I started crying at the airport when I was seeing other families reuniting. All stories about children and parents make me cry. And now even music and singing makes me cry. I guess I’m starting to accept it but it’s still quite embarrassing a SO inconvenient when you’re wearing make-up!
8. Love of food
That’s definitely something shared with my Dad who, rumour has it, was the greatest eater in the Vietnamese student population in Paris. Watch us at the restaurant and we never start our dish before having each taking gazillions of pictures! And we go through MANY dishes.
9. Emotional stability
This one is unrelated the teary eyes but is more a result of always having family dinners as per this article. As a teenager I’ve always felt positive and happy. I never felt I needed something additional like alcohol, drugs, or toxic friendship that lead to dependance and cloud you judgement.
Other things I wished I had from her
Empathy for children and old people. She always understand where they’re coming from, why they act in a sense we would see as irrational. That’s a real gift. the things she had seen in my youngest son as to why he was misbehaving was quite impressive.
Today I want to apologise for all the eye rolling and bad temper Dad and especially you had to endure each time you see me. I feel often annoyed that you are not perfect but I’m growing older and start to see the other side other things and I’m super duper grateful for what you gave to me: so much attention, so much love, so much care, so much wisdom.
I’m still a very proud one and hate showing my emotions so I’d rather write all this down to you, Mum, so you don’t see my teary eyes as all of this comes out of my heart.
Love you Mum!