What Would Mom Say…?


October 10th – last Friday was my mother’s birthday.

It’s been more than fifteen years since mom had migrated to heaven – as dad would say.

But every day- her face, her words, her wishes still find a way to emerge, submerge and re-emerge to influence my way of speaking, acting and reacting.

This weekend, several mother-daughter moments came to mind. I don’t why. Perhaps they remind me that so much of who I am today, is because of her.

Her face, My face

I was twelve years old when I saw mom putting make-up on her face for the first time.

Standing in front of a huge mirror atop her dresser lined with face creams and powder, mother began applying globs of cream over her forehead, cheeks, chin before dipping into another jar of cream for her eyes, and another jar of cream for her neckline. After priming and prepping her face, she used a soft-tipped eye pencil under her eyes and began drawing a fine line. Next – lipstick, blush and powder to give her face a finished look.

I was mesmerized.

“Wow, so much work.” I remembering muttering to myself, but mom heard me.

“You’re still young, you don’t have to do any of this.”

“But I do! I want to look good too!” I shot back like a little rascal.

“You just wait till you’re grown up.” Mom put me in my place.

Little did she know, I didn’t wait.

A day later, I secretly stole her eyeliner and started dotting my under-eye with a faint line.

A barely-there line, actually.  I wanted to look grown up, like mom. But I didn’t want to be found out that I was wearing makeup at age 12 – I always made sure that faint thin eye line, looked barely there.

Now when I make up my face, I sometimes see her face. I often hear her words…”you don’t have to do any of this.” But of course I do – I am grown up now! I wonder if mom knew…I actually wanted to be like her.

Her words, My words

It was a huge blow to my ego – I was on the verge of tears. I didn’t get the promotion I was gunning for that particular year; I called mom looking for a shoulder to cry on.

“It’s so unfair, mom. They know how hard I had worked – all these long days and hours….”

I was going on and on, hyperventilating breathlessly before mom finally spoke calmly.

“Ah-mei (my nickname)…you sound like you’re having a hard time….you’re struggling. Struggle is good for your soul. Without struggle, how can you have breakthrough?”

I got quiet as soon as I heard that.

It was so classic mom. She always made evocative provocative points with a question. She spoke in Cantonese of course – so brief, brisk and detached. Somehow, the point she made that day sank in deep.  All these years, whenever I find myself struggling in whatever context or circumstances – I often hear her words of wisdom. Her words have become my words.

Her wish, My wish

“It’s okay if you don’t get a promotion this year. Did Frank get a promotion?”

Frank was my boyfriend that year when I failed to get the promotion I wanted, but he did.

“He got it, mom. He’s very happy.”

“That’s more important – for him than for you to get ahead. Ultimately, a woman’s happiness belongs with a man at home.”

That was her wishes for me for a long time.

Mom had hoped that I would settle down with the man I love and wouldn’t be so career-minded. That was not the year I listened to her. In fact, mom passed away the year after she expressed that wish. It would take me many more years later to finally meet the one – last year. How did I know he’s the one? I felt happy and at home with him almost instantly when we first met.

I’d talked about my first marriage in Huffington Post.

How time flies – we marked our first wedding anniversary today – October 12th.

Her wish has come true for me.

I wonder – if mom were alive today, what would she say…?


Mable, New York

Mable Chan

Mable Chan is the founder of China Personified. Her contact is mablechan@chinapersonified.com.