Ep. 26 The secret lives of housewives | Some Scuffs

Getting to know my stay-at-home mom

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Written by Clara How

My mother washes her garlic cloves before they are peeled. Her guilty pleasure is scrolling through questionable Instagram ads for kitchen appliances. When she opens her colouring books, she holds up a turquoise pencil and wonders if it is blue, or green. She stopped drinking coffee. Every other day, she thinks it’s time to boil barley water, because it apparently solves all ailments, even the stubborn pimples on my chin.

For as long as I can remember, what my mother did on weekday mornings and afternoons were a mystery. While I overstayed my time in school until shadows grew long on the grounds, and eventually started disappearing for 12 hours in a day, she was living what I call the secret life of housewives. A vacuum of time where somehow, her and a group of friends mysteriously manage to occupy themselves. 

I used to mock her whenever she said she was busy all day – if gym sessions, lunches with friends and grocery shopping constitute a busy day, then I too, would like to be inducted. If her life was an unknown to me, mine was probably similarly unknown to her. For years, I spent most of my waking hours away from home. Home was where I felt restricted, where I had to be conservative, apolitical, non-sexual. I found my freedom in the arms of boys I thought I loved, in thoughtful conversations with friends, in the stories I chose to tell at work. Home made me feel resentful, because of the absence of what I could say, but did not. 

Our worlds, once separate, have now abruptly collided. It is strange to think that the last time I spent this much time with my mother was before my years of education began. It should feel like a regression to childhood, but it surprises me that it does not. 

I believe that my mother started seeing me as less of a child and more like an ally when my father passed away. But it was in quarantine where we both started to see each other as independent adults. 

Her life is not only no longer shrouded in my derision for what she does (or does not do), but rather, her life is now mine. Our routines, habits, meals, even television preferences have come together so seamlessly that it feels less of a collision and more of a partnership. I cook, she washes. I do my Zoom workouts in the evening, and she goes for walks. We come back together for dinner and a daily consumption of Korean variety programmes. 

Sometimes I wonder, where did all the resentment go? My relationship with my mother, always so fraught, has never been more companionable. My guess is that the resentment has been subsumed by observations, and respect. 

Through the way I see my mother running the household, I see her meticulous attention to detail. I see her discipline in creating routines, in keeping herself healthy by regular stretches and walks. I see that her love for K-content is not mindless, but because she is stimulated by the verbal sparring between variety hosts. She tells me that for housewives like her, they have spent years learning how to occupy their time since their children gained their independence. I see her resilience as her fingers move quickly to make folds in dumpling dough.

As I see her, she also sees me. 

I am still the conservative, apolitical, non-sexual child in her house, but it no longer feels like a restriction. Because what she does see now are aspects of me that are also authentic, and in that honesty comes understanding. 

She hears my work calls, and how I speak with confidence and authority. She speculated if two of my colleagues were dating (they aren’t). She guesses which disembodied voice must be my boss. She now knows the names of my friends who send me gifts of food through delivery men. Once sceptical of my cooking, she now prefers my spaghetti over the ones we order in. She also discovered that I don’t, and have never, washed garlic cloves before I peel them.

As the world outside our bubble rages and burns and where headlines feel more fiction than fact, there is some relief in knowing that my mother now sees me. Not all of me, but with more clearly defined edges. 

In being thrown together not by choice, we now see each other.

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