Up Front and Personal

Definition of a Mother

By Father Cao Xuân Hung

When I was a child, electricity was not available in my town in Vietnam at that time. As I went to sleep, my mom usually made a breeze for me with a fan made of thatch or spathe. Sometimes, it was not hot, but my mom still cooled me off. When I felt a little bit too chilly, I told my mom: “Mom, you do not have to fan me anymore. I am not hot!” My mom gently replied: “I am driving mosquitoes away from you, my son!”

Photo Courtesy Father Hung

Late one night, I got up and saw that my mom was sleeping, but her hands were still fanning me. I couldn’t explain what controlled my mom’s hands while she was sleeping. Was it maternal love?

By the time I grew up, we had electricity. So when I went to bed, I did not hang the mosquito net;  I used an electric fan to drive them away. My mom reminded me to hang the net, but I didn’t care and went to sleep. However, the next day, I woke up and saw I was inside the net without knowing who hung the net for me and when.

Before I went to college, my mom prepared everything for me such as clothes, blankets, sandals, detergents, and even needles and threads, and of course, a new mosquito net.

My mom told me: “When you sleep, do not forget to hang the net, otherwise it is easy to be infected with malaria from mosquitos. If the net is torn, you can use a needle and thread to mend it.”

Remembering my mom’s advice, I always hung the net as I went to sleep, even when I just took a nap at noon. My friends usually made a joke: “Because you often hang the net, no wonder that the mosquitos in your room are skinnier than those in our room!”

However, once I went home, I didn’t know why I was too lazy to hang the net when I slept. Nevertheless, I was never stung by mosquitoes, for when I began to fall asleep, my mom always got up to hang the net for me.

One night, my mom and I went to visit my maternal grandmother and stayed over at her house. My mom felt tired and went to bed early, but she did not hang the net for herself. Seeing that, I intended to hang the net for her, but my  grandmother said: “Let me do it! Your mom never hangs the net when she sleeps, I always have to do it for her!”

Now I knew once I went home why I was too lazy to hang the net: I enjoyed wheedling my mom and I think my mom also liked to wheedle my maternal grandmother!

On the day when I saw off my mom forever, I did not cry, yet my heart was filled with great sorrow. At my mom’s tomb cottage (a small house that some in Vietnam build to bury their loved ones), I hung a mosquito net so that my mom could have a sound sleep forever. In my diary, I wrote: “Who is Mother? A mother is one who is present on earth to hang the mosquito net for our sleep. Yet, we just were born in order to hang the net for our mothers only one time: as she dies!”

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