IMG_0001 On the train today two women sat opposite to me. One of them was perhaps in her 70s, a fragile looking Japanese lady with her off-white fisherman-type sunhat pulled deep onto her head. Next to her was sitting a beautiful woman who was roughly my age, or perhaps slightly older, i.e. in her 40s. The women sat very close to each other, which is untypical in Japan, given that the Japanese like their personal space. Thus, I can only assume they were a mother and a daughter.

The mother had her daughter’s hand on her lap and with her finger she was writing something on the hand. Every so often they looked at each other with their faces glowing and nodded. I assumed they were playing a game that I often play with my 7-year old son, in which I write something on his hand or on his back (with my finger) and he guesses what I’ve written. My son loves that game, and so do I.

From behind my sunglasses, I observed the women for a while and was thinking what a lovely mother-child relationship they had even at the age they were, i.e. when the child was no longer a ‘child’. They must have been playing that game for 40 years! And I wondered whether I would still play that game with my son (or daughter) when I was in my 70s and they in their 40s.

All of a sudden I wanted to call my mum and ask why we didn’t play that game, as, for some reason, I felt that the writing game was a determinant of a functional mother-child relationship. Since my mother and I don’t play the game, I felt like we had a problem. Perhaps the problem was the physical distance between my mother and I – I’ve lived in England and Japan for the past 15 years and she lives halfway across the world in Finland.

The scene of the mother and her daughter and the thoughts of my children and my mother brought tears in my eyes. I don’t quite know why I felt so emotional, but I think it was because I felt some people retain a similar relationship with their parents as what they had in their childhood and some grow out of it. Until now, I have happily belonged to the latter group. But sitting on that train, I realized that I wished that I was one of those who still played childhood games with my mother or cuddled next to her on a Saturday afternoon to have a nap – just like I did when I was little.

Then, in between my tears and images of Saturday afternoon naps next to my mother, it hit me – the women weren’t playing a childhood game! I had completely misunderstood what was going on there! The daughter was hearing impaired and the closeness I had observed was just a by-product of them using writing instead of sign language for communication. And my earlier thoughts of the writing game and mother-child relationships felt extremely inappropriate. In my defence, it seems to me that Japanese people often appear more naïve than Western people, possibly because they have much more sheltered lives than many Westerners. For instance, many of my (university) students state that their favourite film is ‘Toy Story’ or ‘Frozen’, and their assumption as to why someone is a vegetarian is because the person wants to lose weight. So, it was not completely bizarre from me to assume that two adults were playing the writing game.

The punch line is that the mother and daughter who sat opposite to me didn’t necessarily have any more special relationship than the one I have with my mother. For all I know, the mother and daughter were like most of us and did no longer resort to children’s games to kill time on trains or elsewhere.

But those few minutes on that train when I was falsely under the impression that the two women had a very special mother-child relationship made me promise to myself that I will try my hardest to retain that kind of a relationship with my children until I am 70, or even beyond.

19 thoughts on “Mother

  1. EVERYONE looks at others and thinks that their life is better/more fulfilled/happier. It’s just what we do as humans. Take a look at instagram for example – snippets of peoples lives that cause us to feel jealous/envious and develop a big old case of FOMO.

    I’m sure your kids will always have a strong bond with you, whatever your actions X

  2. Very nice post. When we visited Nara the other day our guide (a colleague of my spouse’s) brought her daughter who was a delight. Affectionate with everyone – she smiled and danced and fed the deer. Talk about joie de vivre. And so much personality packed into such a small package – she looked to be about 6 years old but when her mother explained that she was in fact 9 I realized that she had Down’s Syndrome (my nephew also). At the end of our trip, the mother talked about it – how she felt when her daughter was born and how grateful and happy she is now to have this child in her life. Something, I realized, I don’t express to my own children often enough.

    To my surprise the mother is teaching her daughter the languages she knows: Japanese (native language) plus English and French. As we left them she kissed us on both cheeks and told us “au revoir.” 🙂

    • Thanks for you lovely comment.

      I have a good relationship with my parents, but similarly to what you say in relation to your children, I feel I don’t express my appreciation and love for my parents often enough. My son and daughter frequently (spontaneously) tell me that they love me. I think it’s been way too long since I’ve spontaneously said that to my mum. As soon as the time difference allows me, I’ll be on the phone to my mum. 🙂

  3. If we have a loving relationship with our parents, it is important to act on it as much as possible, no matter how much geographical distance may separate us. I lost my mother when I was about your age, and I had not even begun to show her how much I, as an adult, loved her. It had not really occurred to me that she might could die at any time. Your post resonates with me very much, as you probably can tell.

    • I’m so sorry to hear you lost your mother at a relatively early age.

      I have a loving relation with my mother (and father), but I think the geographical distance between us and the fact that I and them lead busy lives mean that we are not as close as when I was young. My plan is that the next time I’m in Finland, my children and I will cuddle next to my mum and we can have an afternoon nap together. 🙂

  4. That sounds wonderful!! Each of my (adult) children lives far away, and I am so grateful for the fact that we can be with each other in not-so-many hours.

      • What a beautiful looking (and, I know, sounding) language! When I can find a couple of open hours in each day, I’m going to start studying it.

      • Having lived in Finland, you probably know that (as a non-native speaker) Finnish is one of the most difficult languages to learn, right? But it can be done. I for instance know some Japanese, American and British people who speak very good Finnish. 🙂

      • I do know that it is very difficult to learn, and I probably can’t imagine just how much. I have studied and tried to become conversational in Russian, so I know a bit about how difficult that language is. Part of what intrigues me about Finnish is that last time I checked, it was said to be unlike virtually any other human language except for that still the view of linguists. I am not particularly good at learning languages, but I enjoy trying. Many Finnish immigrants settled in Oregon (mainly along the coast) in the early part of the 20th century, so it is not unusual to encounter people with Finnish last names here. Thank you for the realism and the encouragement, Leslie

      • Yeah, Finnish is related to Hungarian and Estonian and some relatively small languages like Vepsio and Sami.

        From a linguistic perspective, it is interesting (and amazing) that even though Finland it sandwiched between Sweden and Russia and has been governed by these countries for centuries, the Finns have managed to keep their own language. England is a good example of a country where the original language slowly disappeared when the country was conquered.

        Good luck to your Finnish studies! 🙂

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