The school held a celebration for mothers on the Friday before Mother’s Day.

The event clashed with a lecture at work that I had been keen to attend. But I knew what I had – and deep down in my heart, wanted – to do.

Besides, the last time I skipped a presentation that Coco’s class put up after a speech & drama holiday workshop, I was confronted with a pitiful “Mummy didn’t go”, to which I could only dredge up a feeble, “I’m sorry, mummy had to be at work.” (Oh, the guilt, THE GUILT.)

Heck, even when I sat out on a weekly visit to the in-laws, and greeted the girls and husband with open arms when they returned, Claire centred an accusatory finger between my eyes and menacingly deadpanned, “YOU. DIDN’T. COME.” Gulp. Hell could have frozen over under her icy Claire Bear stare.

My mum accompanied Claire to her playgroup activity (because it’s not humanly possible for me to be in 2 classes at the same time) while I waited for Coco’s nursery class to make their entrance. Seeing her clutching her hand-made flower pot filled with colourful paper blooms and her little face searching anxiously for me in the crowd of mothers made my heart wrench with the realisation of how much she must have been anticipating this moment. I can only say that I’m proud of myself (and hugely relieved) at having held myself together even though those few minutes of song, dance and gift presentations almost reduced me into a bawling, blubbering mess. [Of late, I’ve been under the ruthless assault of these damn pregnancy hormones and anything – even friggin’ mall advertisements for Mother’s Day (yes, Yann, I’m talking about the one you shared on the Bubsicles Facebook page) – make me look like I’ve been chopping enough onions to fill a room.]

Amongst the Kodak moments of proud mothers and delighted children, I spotted the little ones.

The little ones who clutched paper bouquets for no one. The little ones who returned their crepe flowers to the teachers for safekeeping till evening. The little ones who obediently went through the motions of singing and dancing but remained rooted to the spot while their friends ran into their mothers’ embrace. The little ones who partnered the teachers during the mother-child aerobics segment. The little ones with glum, downturned mouths and stone faces – hardened by the effort to hold back tears while the teachers offered words of comfort that “Mummy will come later, okay?”

It broke my heart. And yet, all I did was to helplessly continue bopping to the beat of the workout (and to Coco’s complaints of the outdoor heat – yes, she is one fragile thing.)

I wondered why their mothers weren’t there. It was all too easy assume that they had chosen work over children. Too easy to write them off as “working mothers”, “corporate warriors” and “career women”. Too easy to be all judge-y and self-righteously tut-tut that they could have made more effort. Too easy to feel one-up against these mothers.

But it couldn’t have been easy for these women to make that choice not to be there. Maybe they were healthcare workers who couldn’t get time off. Maybe they were teachers who had to be in school to help other women’s children deliver the joy of Mother’s Day while missing out on receiving this very same gift. Maybe they were community helpers whose services were very much needed by the less fortunate. Whatever the reason, it couldn’t have been easy to sacrifice their special time that day for others.

As sorry as I felt for their kids that morning, I knew that these women weren’t any less of a mother than I was simply because they were absent from an hour-long school activity. I fervently hoped that they wouldn’t be too hard on themselves for not being there.

With that, and Coco’s tiny hand in mine, I hurried to join Claire and her classmates in decorating cards for their mothers – including those who couldn’t be there.

And that’s okay. Because no one is judging.


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