My daughter finishes the last of her A level exams today. Her school years have come to an end. I am feeling sad but then I have always been a sentimental mush of a mum. There is so much I want to say to her and I am making this letter public because there must be hundreds of mums around the country this week feeling similar angst.
My Dearest Maelo,
I remember the day you started school at the age of 4. I cried buckets in the lead up to you starting school and cried all day long while you were there on your first day. I wondered how I would feel when you left school one day and that day has come. I have so much to say and my thoughts are jumbled.
Firstly, you know that I will be crying when you walk through the gates for the last time today. This time it will be tears of joy unlike the first time when I felt utter sadness at being separated from you. Then I feared for what the education system would throw at you and that you would be swallowed up by a whole system that left no space for a life at home. Today I will be crying because you have grown, both, academically and personally in the most wonderful of ways.
Those 14 years have always felt like a shared journey. When you started at reception I struggled with balancing work and looking after you even though I worked part-time. Some days I had panic attacks because it all seemed overwhelming. I remember one evening particularly well. We got home and I got into bed with a massive panic attack. You were only 4 and said. “Mama, I am scared”. I couldn’t get out of bed. You dragged a stool over to the sink and stood on it to get me a glass of water. I was so afraid that you would fall over. Soon after things got better. I am glad that you don’t remember that episode because it shows that we made progress.
The first thing we used to do after getting home was to get out a pack of cards or have a picnic in our garden when the weather was good. In winter we watched The Simpsons on TV before tackling homework. Wasn’t that a drag but it had to be done!
As the years progressed I not so much as helped you with your studies but also learnt from you. Having never studied British history myself I would listen to you teaching me. When you reached Year 7 I gave up on helping you with your maths and Science. It was beyond me and you would tease me about my ignorance. I appreciate though how you still sought my advice on methods of study and choice of question to answer on your project work. We worked as a partnership and still do.
Friends started to fill your time up when you hit your teens. I struggled with this. Suddenly my daughter was not with me at the weekends but it was a joy to see you branching out and carving a place in the world for yourself. Still, your teenage years were a particular challenge to my Asian upbringing. There I was thinking that I had overcome any cultural barriers by bringing up a mixed race daughter but I was wrong. Your skirts were too short, you were going out too much, parties were distractions from your studies and you needed to spend more time cleaning up your room. Most of the time I was right (smug mother) but I acknowledge that I gave you hell unnecessarily some times. I am sorry.
As you have grown up you have become more aware of your mixed race heritage. Being a mixed race child isn’t easy I know. You have struggled with conflicting cultural messages and sometimes these have required you to choose right over fun. I don’t know whether this has made you a better person. Only time will tell. In the meantime please don’t post photos of yourself falling over drunk on Facebook for fear of upsetting my 500 Asian relatives and bringing shame on the family. I can imagine you laughing at this line because you are constantly amazed at how many relatives I have. The funniest moments, for me, that stem from you being mixed race is when you see photos of Asian girls doing ‘unAsian’ things and exclaim, “Even I know not to do that”. When push comes to shove I would put you first above straitlaced Asian values.
We did have some genuinely difficult times like when your father was diagnosed with skin cancer and we had to tell you about it the day you finished your GCSE exams because he had to go to hospital the next day. My heart broke seeing you cry. Your dearest cousin was diagnosed with leukaemia last year. You asked me whether we were cursed. No, we aren’t cursed at all. These things happen and, thankfully, both are on the mend now. I have taught you to look at the positive in life while paying attention to the realities of life and I hope you will always remember to view life in a balanced way.
Maelo, you are my heart and my joy. When you leave school after your exam today remember that you have truly done your best in all ways. I look forward to being a part of your next journey as you prepare for life at university. I am thankful that you will be living at home. I am still a mush mum and would have cried crater loads if you had moved away not to mention that your cat would have fared even worse. Dad would have taken to drinking more milk. Neither of us are big alcohol drinkers and it has always made me chuckle when you gasp in amazement at people having more than one glass of alcohol.
Remember your values borne from being a Christian, a citizen of the world, a child of immigrants and a product of being mixed race. Always fight injustice when you see it. Never become right wing. Continue to remember those who have helped you along the way.
The saying that “it takes a village to raise a child” is certainly true in your case. Being a child of immigrants you have had input from friends and relatives across the world. Your aunty, cousins, uncle and ‘adopted’ uncles from Wales, Ireland and New Zealand wait for news about your accomplishments and help to pick you up when you fall. People in the neighbourhood still refer to you as the ‘baby’ and those at church are praying for your success.
Go and conquer the world now kiddo.
Lots of love
P/S Can we please stop watching reruns of ‘Father Ted’? I hear that ‘Love Island’ is very popular.