Sometimes my niece Ting comes back from school carrying a little bag of goodies from some kid's birthday celebration. On days like this, you would expect her to be happy but no, she starts crying the moment she steps off the school bus because she knows the bag will be taken away from her.
At this age, she's often falling sick. If a small cold goes unchecked, it develops into a bad case of bronchitis. A visit to the pediatrician means more antibiotics, Ventolin and using the nebuliser. So it is no surprise that she's not allowed to eat candies and chocolates on most days. No ice cream, strawberries and cookies too.
It's cruel to deprive a child of her goodie bag but we tell her it's for her own good. What does a 3-year old know about what's for her good? So, she clutches her bag tightly and refuses to give it up. She even cuddles it to sleep and dreams about candy land. She wakes up to find it gone from her grip and bawls her eyes out. When she's finally given a small treat, she looks around with guilty eyes, seeking approval, wondering if it's a forbidden food.
She's in a dilemma. Should she savour it slowly or gobble it up quickly before it's taken away from her?
Poor girl. I don't want her to grow up like me. Always feeling guilty.
For some reason, I always had this nagging feeling of guilt when I was younger. I suspected it was my upbringing. Whenever I went out with my friends, I never truly enjoyed myself. I felt guilty. Maybe I should be at home studying instead, or helping my mom in the garden, or I shouldn't be spending too much or staying out too late. There was always something bothering me.
It got worse after I got married. Come to think of it, I probably married out of guilt too. After I gave birth to YK, all I did was rush home after work to take care of him and finish the housework. Life was too hectic. I stopped going out with my friends. It wasn't until SK was born that we engaged Muji, our domestic helper from Indonesia. She was really good with the kids, really like a gift from heaven. Seeing how harrassed I was, she urged me, "Go out, enjoy yourself. Don't worry, I'll take care of the kids."
Like a spell that was broken, it unleashed me from the feelings of guilt. Suddenly I realised that I was not indispensable afterall. I learned to let go. Those few words were her greatest gift to me.
As I was talking to mom that day, I finally realised why I grew up feeling this way. Mom was a sickly child. As a result, her mom (my maternal grandma) put her on a strict diet. Growing up, she wasn't allowed to eat cakes or sweets because of her allergy and indisgestion problems. She wasn't allowed to play outdoors with her siblings.
Unfortunately, my mom didn't have an angel like Muji to break the spell. Until now, she still deprives herself of special treats. Everything is either too unhealthy, too salty or too rich for her delicate tummy. She doesn't enjoy her food and doesn't allow herself to have fun.
"I really must go home now" is her favourite line when we're out shopping. I ask her why? She doesn't know. She just wants to be home though nobody controls her. My dad gives her ultimate freedom to do whatever she likes and we always encourage her to socialise.
But she doesn't know how to break the spell. I wish I can help her.