Growing up in my mother’s absence
Unlike so many children these days, I didn’t get to fly home three or four times a year when I was in boarding school in England. Nor did I have my parents visiting me at exit weekends, parents’ weekends and etc. Indeed, I was lucky to come home once a year which actually only happened the first year, for the remaining years I spent my summers at teachers’ homes, they acting as my guardian.
It is therefore fair to say that I lived at home until I was 12. Everything I have learned after I left home, I learned through either watching how others did things, or by asking others how to go about doing it. But most of what and how I learned were from making mistakes, learning by trial and error.
One summer, I stayed with one of my school teachers (I don’t remember which one) and her family at their holiday home in the countryside. What I had learned during those three weeks opened my eyes about the importance of respecting other cultures, habits and family values. I was surprised that they don’t brush their teeth until after breakfast and everyone in the family was entitled to a voice of their own, each individual was respected for their opinions and was allowed to be heard no matter how young you are. Around the table, everyone talked and exchanged opinion. We went to a strawberry farm and for the first time, I was taught to bring a jar of water and picked the strawberries off the stems and eat as much as you could without having to pay for them. We only had to pay for what was taken home.
The years in boarding school, coming from Hong Kong and initially knowing very little English, looking very different from the English girls, I struggled and I learned each lesson the hard way.
The fact that I was a year older than my peers only made things worse, as I had a very hard time adjusting and blending in. The sense of belonging was not there. I felt I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn’t belong to anywhere in particular, nor could I identify with anyone. I felt like an alien. I couldn’t pronounce the word, ‘sugar’; I couldn’t bare not taking a shower daily; I didn’t know how to talk about boys like they did. Teasing, bullying, being isolated, were all part of my daily routine. I was alone in every sense of the word.
Every Friday, there was a line waiting at the phone booth in our boarding house as that was the only day and time that parents were allowed to call and speak to their daughters. I was never in that line. I had no call to expect.
Every day, there would be a gang crowded over the table at the entrance of our boarding house where letters were displayed, letters sent from parents, grandparents or friends, to my housemates. I was never amongst the crowd. I had no letters to expect.
Growing up was a lonely journey for me. It was ironic given that I came from a big family. I learned at that age that if I wanted to survive, I had to learn it myself, I had to fight it myself and I had to live it. Calling home, asking for help, unloading my sorrows; these were not part of the survival skills I practiced because at a young age, I had learned that if those actions did not contribute to the end result, that meant they are not wise choices. The end result I wanted was to be able to survive using my own power… realistically, what could my parents had done for me? Fly over to scold those mean girls, or even withdraw me from the school? When I couldn’t find answers to such questions, I knew those were not the wise actions I should act upon. I did not want to leave the school, NOT because I loved it so much, but because I wanted to prove to those girls as well as to myself that they couldn’t break me.
There is no doubt that my boarding school years were the catharsis for the person I would become as a young adult. During that time, I survived college, lived in both the USA and Hong Kong, and experienced several (ultimately broken) romantic relationships.
I made myself believe that I did not need anyone, including my mother and my family. The truth of the matter was I did survive without them, I did continue to walk my lonely journey with pride. It was only years later did I realized surviving it all does not mean it was actually good for me, nor does not mean it had to be like that. I made it so. I made it as though I was a single child without parents.
How I wish I had this wisdom then.
How I wish I had dug deeper into the source of my pain then and not now.
How I wish I had not ignored my deep desire of having my mother in my life as a young adult.
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