Just Like Mommy

I was not the marrying kind. But I tied the knot. Everyone was surprised. Including me.

I was not very fond of children either. But I had M. Everyone was surprised. But not me. I knew exactly what I was going to do. I had a plan.

I was going to have my baby. Take a couple of weeks of maternal leave, and be back at work. I was a career woman. The high-powered type. The type that enjoyed working. The type that was bent on climbing the corporate ladder. One rung at a time. Two or three if possible.

I read all about storing breast milk, and M had a place at the local nursery. I had everything arranged.

M came home. We spent our first twenty-four hours together. Every minute of it. Together. Just M and me. I do not remember my husband coming home. The Diet was in session, and they had beds at the office.

I was expecting a frantic twenty-four hours, but M was a happy baby. She slept for hours at a time. Got fed. Got her diaper changed. And slept again. And when she was not sleeping, she just looked at me with those big round eyes. Peace and quiet. Now I was surprised.

The days passed. It was winter, and cold outside. I hardly went out. I did not see anyone. I did not talk to anyone. But it did not bother me. I had M. And every day was one of peace and quiet.

M cried. All babies cry. But it was more like she was calling me. And she always stopped crying the minute I picked her up. It was as if she knew she no longer had a reason to cry.

As my maternity leave neared its end, I realized I would not be going back to work. I could never leave M in the care of a stranger. There was no career more important than the tiny creature in my arms. I knew then that I was leaving one career for another. I had decided to be a stay-at-home mom. Everyone was in shock. I was not. Instinct told me that I was moving on to a greener pasture. And that the pay-off would be enormous.

I became M’s mom. It was a twenty-four hour job. Seven days a week. 365 days a year. 366 days on a leap year.

I was a cook and nutritionist. M never liked carrots, but she ate them anyway. She just never knew she was eating carrots. I had a way of making them disappear in the dishes that I cooked. I guess I was also a magician.

I was a baker. There were no cake shops in Lagos. Or maybe, I did not know where to find them. But it did not matter. I learned to bake before M’s first birthday. By baking three round sponge cakes, one bigger than the other two, I had a huge cake of Mickey’s face and ears for her second birthday.

I was a costume designer. I never learned how to sew, but M always had interesting Halloween costumes, I used glue. Lots of it. And I was very proficient with the stapler. It worked just as well as a sewing machine. She was once the Phantom of the Opera with an elegant velvet cape that I hemmed with the stapler.

I was a Japanese teacher. I taught her the 240 Kanji characters she missed learning because we moved back to Japan when she was in third grade. I wrote short stories using these Kanji characters over and over, and I put the stories in her lunch box.

I was a medical researcher. While living in Lagos, I found a long, fat, white worm in her diaper. It was very much alive. And the doctor was away. I was panicking, but not enough to get on a plane to London. I went through the medical encyclopedia, and learned that the lively parasite was female. I had the deworming medicine sent from Tokyo. More worms in her diaper. All dead this time.

I was M’s mom. And I was a little bit of everything.

It has been a seventeen-year career, and it is coming to an end all too soon. M is leaving for college. I am nearing retirement. It has been the career of a lifetime, and I was right. Although I never received a paycheck, the pay-off was huge, and the bonuses even better.

Bonus number one. M’s conversation with a friend.

Friend: M, does your mom work for the UN?

M: No. But she could.

Friend: Is she a lawyer?

M: No. But she could have been.

Friend: What does she do?

M: She’s a stay-at-home mom.

Friend: Oh…

M: And she is no ordinary stay-at-home mom. If stay-at-home moms worked in the corporate world, she would be the highest paid CEO ever. Definitely seven figures. With stock options.

Bonus number two. An excerpt from one of her college essays.

“I used to want to be a writer. I turned eleven and decided to become Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Now I plan to follow in my dad’s footsteps and be a bureaucrat, but I’m realistic enough to know that might change. All I know for sure is that I want to be a mother. It’s the most difficult job in the world, but I’d like to try my hand at it, because it’s also the most important.”

And the biggest bonus of all.

“I want to have a daughter. And I will raise her exactly the way you raised me. I will be a mommy just like you.”


14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. julia
    Jan 15, 2011 @ 13:19:23

    wow, i am impressed. you obviously have been (and still are) an intelligent, sensitive and empathic caretaker. a rare kind. bravo!


    • haha
      Jan 18, 2011 @ 02:29:29

      Julia, thank you for the kind words.

      I learned to parent from books, and from my daughter, by listening to her, and watching her, and knowing her.

      And I am so grateful M chose me to be her mommy!



  2. CS
    Jan 15, 2011 @ 13:59:34

    Your stories are inspirational, touching and filled with raw emotion… they are absolute treasures for the heart! I boo-hooed during and after reading “Just Like Mommy”… I’m sure you still do when you read it yourself. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    I am a Vietnamese-American mother of two beautiful boys, 3 1/2 and a newborn (less than 3 months old) and I will be heading back to work from maternity leave in less than two days. I struggle each day on the choice I’ve made to work over staying at home. Since my boys are still so young (and impressionable), I can at least find comfort in knowing I can still give them the gift of my love and devotion when I am with them. I am also blessed to obtain little nuggets of wonderful parenting stories / lessons learned from moms like you.

    Thank you for your stories… they are uplifting and truly inspirational.

    All the Best,

    CS (Atlanta, GA)


    • haha
      Jan 18, 2011 @ 02:38:25


      I wrote the essays several years ago, and only decided to blog after I read Amy Chua’s Wall Street Journal article. I had to read all the essays again to remove my daughter’s name, and I could not help smiling and yes, crying.

      I had to stop, and write to tell her how grateful I am she chose to come into my life.

      I can only imagine the difficulty of being a working mother. I could not do it. I was the kind of person who lived to work, and M would have suffered for it.

      Do continue to find the right balance between your career and motherhood. I am only now realizing how big of a disadvantage being a stay-at-home mom is when rejoining the workforce.



  3. Victoria
    Jan 21, 2011 @ 03:31:28

    I wish I had been brave enough to have children and parent like you do. At 33, it is too late, but thank you as a Secondary School teacher in NZ and the UK for being sensible enough to share parenting ethics and standards we rarely see in the classroom… I wish parents had your sense, humour and grace…


    • haha
      Jan 22, 2011 @ 02:37:46

      Dear Victoria,

      At 33, it is not too late!

      When we lived in NYC, M was four, and I was 34, and I was the youngest mom in her kindergarten class. Most of the other moms had their children in their 40’s.

      I am truly fortunate to have had the gut instinct to trust M’s best teachers. They helped me to become the right parent for M.



    • Lucinda
      Feb 03, 2011 @ 14:42:39

      It isn’t too late at all Victoria. I was 35 and 39 when my son and daughter were born, respectively. While there certainly are mothers who are younger than I, most of my friends and fellow-mothers are my contemporaries. I am happy I studied, worked, and traveled before starting my family. There is enormous truth to the saying “Educate a woman and you educate a family.” Women usually set the standard for the family. And I, too, surprised myself by choosing to stay home and raise my children. Nevertheless, I recognize that it is a privilege not every woman is able to avail herself of.


      • haha
        Feb 03, 2011 @ 14:49:04

        Thank you for your comment, Lucinda.

        While I often look with envy at friends who have chosen to continue working, and now have very successful careers, I will always be grateful I was able to stay home with M.

        My family and friends have always felt that I wasted my education by being a stay-at-home mother. I know though that I could not have been the mother I was to M without my education.

        The working world is not very generous to mothers who chose to stay home, but I am hoping someone will see that I am a better employee because I have been a mother.


  4. Bricia Bartlett
    Jan 27, 2011 @ 21:55:28

    It is absolutely not too late! I agree I had my first child at 18, my second at 34 and I would love to have another one next year at 37!
    Dear Good mother, I am eating up your essay!!!!
    I teared up on this one and I wrote a whole comment on the one about baths and it erased it after I had typed it up. No matter, I will continue reading 🙂


    • haha
      Jan 27, 2011 @ 22:00:19

      Thank you, Bricia.

      If I could bring back all those years with M, I would in a flash!

      M’s childhood was very, very special for me.

      It was a time of magic. A box of tissues turning into snowflakes. Beanie babies transformed into an orchestra. Colorful, mysterious objects posing as birthday presents to mommy.

      It was a time of performances. A white cloud singing. A red apple reciting a poem. A pink butterfly dancing.

      It was a time of improvising. Using a stapler to hem a Halloween costume. Making Shel Silverstein’s Giving Tree come alive with a green umbrella and red plastic apples.

      Childhood is a gift. A gift from my daughter to me. And I am so very glad I was able to see it as such, and enjoy it to the fullest.



  5. KG
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 21:35:40

    This post brought tears to my eyes. I work full-time out of the house and have a 16.5 month-old boy (who is blessed to be cared for by his two grandmas). Your post makes me realize how much I need to just enjoy the time I have with him and not second-guess myself and the things I do b/c before I know it, he’ll be off to college. I only hope he will one day think as highly of me as your daughter does of you… 🙂 Thank you for sharing.


    • haha
      Feb 01, 2011 @ 04:07:26

      Dear KG,

      Yes, your son’s childhood is fleeting. Enjoy it as much as you can. While it is important to prepare him for the future, it is also vital that you make memories that will make you both smile when he goes off to college. And I am so very lucky, I have a ton of memories to make me smile…and laugh…

      A whole box of tissue turning into snow flakes, Beanie Babies transformed into an orchestra, unidentified colourful objects posing as Christmas and birthday presents to Mommy, a white cloud singing, a pink butterfly dancing, a red apple reciting a poem…

      I can see them so clearly even now. Go make your memories.

      And thank you for reading my blog.



  6. elise
    Mar 08, 2011 @ 11:28:34

    i teared up while reading this. I am a Filipina mom of three girls aged 15,11 and 3 months old. I have been a stay at home mom for the last couple of years but next month I will be joining the workforce in order to add to our family coffers so to speak because my eldest will be starting college in June and my husband’s income alone won’t be enough for all our additional expenses. I am sad and at the same time feeling guilty because I wanted to take care of our baby and enjoy her while she is growing up. Nevertheless, I console myself with the thought that my eldest grew up with me as a working mom until she was in fifth grade but she end up a good child. She has been on top of her class, very diligent and hardworking. She will be entering one of the country’s top universities (Ateneo) as a full scholar this coming June. Just thinking of her achievements makes the guilt of going to being a working mom lesser. I am just hoping that the person we will take care of her like her own child.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences as a mother.


    • haha
      Mar 09, 2011 @ 00:24:12

      Dear Elise,

      I will never regret my decision to be a stay-at-home mom, but I have asked M to avoid becoming one at all costs. Rejoining the working world continues to be a challenge for me, and more and more, I feel like I am being penalized for choosing to stay home to raise a child.

      I strongly support your decision to go back to work as soon as possible, and to find a balance between a career and motherhood. The price of society demands for the joy of being a full-time mom may be too steep. Still, knowing what I know now, I would not have done anything differently. I have no doubt the years I spent being M’s mom will be the best years of my life.

      There is a saying in Japan that children grow up watching their parents’ back. I am convinced that we are role models for our children, and with someone as thoughtful as you on the subject of parenting, your children seem to be in very capable hands.

      All the best.


      P.S. I continue to tell the story of my life with M in my weekly column in the Washington Times.



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