My Mama, the wonder woman

Keeping my promise to Nye aka Ginger, I am posting about my mother, in addition to the post on my Grandmother. I have to confess that I have never been close to my mother for various reasons. Out of all the children in the family I wanted to be so much like her in being strong, calm, and collective. My Mama is the most courageous woman I have never seen in my life. I have only seen her cry once at the moment of my sister’s death. While she might have not treated all her children equally, mama has taught me to be self-reliant and independent.

Where do I begin to describe a woman who has been the most influential in my life and yet I know so little about? I can only share what I know about her based on what I remember and from what the adults in the family are able to tell me. Like many other Laotian parents, there are so many secrets and so many stories that we may never know because the adults are not willing to talk about their past. I can only wonder why they can’t share the burdens and pains with me. I want to know all, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

What a better way to start at the beginning, talking about my Mama with pictures that I found to go along with the stories. Here is what I know about my Mama.

1. She was born in Ban Keun, the home town of her mother and her grandmother, great-grandparents, as the list goes on as far back as the birth of the town itself.

2. She was the first born in the family. Being a girl and the oldest meant a great deal of responsibilities and extra burden that she must bear later on in life as a teenager.

3. She was raised mostly by her grandparents. Her grandfather was a very strict man. If chores were not done properly, that meant being beaten by canoe paddle.

4. Her parents and great-grandparents placed a great value on education. When her family relocated to Vientiane my Mama was later sent to stay with her uncle (my Grandmother’s older brother) to attend school with his daughters.

5. Her favorite subjects were Math and Science. She loves Science the most and especially studying about the human physiology. She played house with her cousins and pretended to be a doctor. She would make dolls out of banana trees and sticks needles made out of bamboo into them, pretending to give injections to her patients.

My Mama (on the right) with her younger brothers and sister in Vientiane. The photo was taken between 1962-1963.

Mama and her siblings

6. During the flood of Vientiane in 1966, my Grandmother relocated the family to Vang Vieng. My mother continued her education there. When she found out about the OB Nursing Program in 1967, Mama begged her mother to change her age so she can take the entrance exam for the OB Nursing School in Vientiane. It was a very prestigious educational program at that time and to graduate from this top notch nursing school in Laos meant a bright future for the selected few.

7. My Grandmother went to the chief of the town and requested for an age change for my mother. Mama became four years older legally and was able to take the entrance exam.

8. Tragic struck her and almost wiped her dream of becoming a doctor. While playing with friends along the Nam Song River in Vang Vieng, one of them fell into the water and pulled Mama’s right arm as she was trying to save her friend. Mama was lucky enough to have passed the physical examination for the entrance requirement of OB Nursing School.

9. As fate would have it. She also scored well for the written examination. She was chosen as one of the 32 students across the country and became the youngest member of the class of 1969, the last class for the OB Nursing Program.

Below are pictures of my Mama between 1967-1969. She looks like a typical student with many friends. She was beautiful and proper and was well sought after by many men. There was a joke about how when Mama walked to school and come to a stop at an intersection. There would be 4 guys from different directions waiting to escort her to class.

Mama (standing) with her older cousin in Vientiane.

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Mama

Mama during OB Nursing Program

My Mama is the one on the far right with her OB Nursing classmates.

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My Mama is the one in the second row, first one on the left if you can’t tell her face by now.

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This was another gathering before graduation in 1969. My Mama is the middle one, in the front row.

Mama during OB Nursing Program

10. During her last year as a student, Mama was informed of her father’s death on June 04, 1969. She had to return to Vang Vieng for the funeral and went back to complete a few months of her study. She received her Diploma of Practical Nurse on November 07, 1969. After her graduation, she was stationed in OB Vang Vieng Branch Hospital. My Mama became a life savior for many people, including her own family. She had no choice but to be the second parent to her siblings.

7 Comments

  1. I can’t say that our parents have had much secretes from us, might be that we’re very closed to them, and as they get older, all they want to talk about is the past. I was very closed to my mom and she told me a great deal about her past, it’s a matter of me wanting to hear or not, and some stories it seemed that she must have told a million times, but thinking back now, I’m glad that I spent a great deal of time with her, never regretted any moment at all. I’m trying to spend more time with my dad, he often fusses at me that I blog too much, I’m wondering how he knew, someone’s been telltale on me, I’m wondering who.

    You look very much like your mom, some parents might show that they love their children not equally but I think deep down inside, they do but they just not showing it because certain child might need more attention than others, and I’m sure your mom is very proud of you, might be one of those moms that would carry their children’s photos in their wallets, and take it out to show off when ever opportunity arise. 😉

  2. Your are a good oriental girl,Please keeping this typical model virtue of laos.I´m very proud of you” Sao Vientiane”,

  3. Reading this blog almost put me to tears! I didn’t grow up around many Laos people so I always wondered why I could never connect with my mother. 

    Growing up in America, I was surrounded by the image of what an “American” mother should be.  I started to resent my mother for not being like that and it put a huge distance in our relationship. Now I am starting to realize that we come from two different worlds. Her values, beliefs, and traditions were built growing up and Laos and mine growing up in America.

    And like you, I don’t know much about my mother or her past. She just does not talk about it and I never really asked.

    I guess the most important thing I’ve realized is that she loves me even if it’s not the way I want her to show it.

  4. I know what you mean about resentment toward your mother or parents. My younger siblings went through the same stage during their high school years. When I was in high school my parents never had time for me. They never went to my games and I thought they didn’t love me enough.

    I tried to explain to them that giving us food and shelter is not enough and urged them to be more active when it comes to my siblings. Of course this was not what my siblings wanted. They were resentful for my mother being there all the time at the PTA meetings or showing up at teacher/parents meeting. They were ashamed pretty much that my parents didn’t speak perfect English or of how they dressed.

    They were not happy as well when it comes to curfew. My parents are very strict and my siblings only want to be like their friends with so much freedom that my parents were not allowed to have as teenagers. You can imagine all the fights and tensions and I was in the middle of it all.

    When my siblings made their complaints to me, I tried to make them understand the positions of my parents. I told them stories of how we crossed over to Thailand, risking our lives. How we had to survive during the refugee camps years and the difficulty of having to start a new life in America. I told them our parents are doing their best and they should be proud of them and not being resentful or shameful of them. If they are being too strict is because they are living in fear and grew up with fears. All they want is to protect their children and they think they can be safe if they don’t go out.

    Pretty much it’s a culture clash and at times we don’t know how to minimize the pain on both sides .

    I think you have a great deal of influence over your mother whether you know it or not. Just talk to her and spend time with her. You’ll learn to appreciate one and you don’t have to agree on everything. Yes, your mother loves you whether she shows it or not and even though she might not love you as much as someone else but she will always be your mother.

    The only advice I can give you is learning to forgive, forgive yourself and forgive others and accept one another for who and what we are.

  5. Your blogs and responses have put many things into perspective for me.  I guess I just never put these feelings out there in the open.  Kob jai lie lie for your time and input!  You don’t know how much your blogs have helped me!

  6. Sabaidee Chan,

    I’m glad to know that you have found my postings to be helpful. I wish you the best.

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