This is an excerpt from "Ma, I Forgive You," my work in progress book.
It happened in 2010 when I joined a speech contest. I informed my mother about it and coyly invited her to listen to it. Unexpectedly, she seemed excited about it and promised that she would cancel her other activities just to grant my wish and said she would make sure her phone was fully charged on that day.
My mother was on the phone listening while I was delivering my contest piece. She was not in the audience physically but it meant everything to me. I had never experienced having her watching me doing anything on stage since the day she left. She went to work abroad when I was 9.
“Ma, I forgot my lines! I hate myself,” I told my mother who was on the phone. Right after I shook hands with the host and disappeared from the audience, I wailed like a child having his tantrum. I felt so embarrassed of my error. I thought I had mastered my speech. But my mind betrayed me. How could I be so dumb?
“Really?” was mother’s only reply. While I got so devastated with what just happened, that’s how simple she could say? Didn’t she have any idea how frustrating it was when the words that I practiced were not the exact arrangement of words that came out of my mouth? How could she be so insensitive of my feelings? I was torn beyond words and all she could say was “Really?” Really!?
“I didn’t notice you forgot some words!”
While I was sobbing blocking out everything she was saying, I felt everything I had planned out became pointless. Maybe I’ll just accept the fact that my mother wasn’t really the kind of mother I was expecting her to be, like most mothers, who were sensitive enough to just listen and knew how to smooth out any bad situation. How could my own mother not understand my heartache at the moment? How could she be so heartless!
“I can’t believe you’re so good! ” she said.
I thought it was just in my mind, so I had to ask “What are you talking about?”
“You really are so good! Son, I am so proud of you!”
The phrase “I am so proud of you” echoed in my ears. My heart melted. It’s as if the whole place lit up so bright, like I was on top of the mountain. The warmth of air blew all the troubles of the day, including my embarrassing defeat.
Immediately, I left the venue without waiting for the result of the contest. I knew I would go home empty-handed but it didn’t bother me. My heart was overflowing with joy beyond words as if I had won the elusive contest.
For the first time in my life, I had received the most precious trophy - the most precious compliment! How sweet it felt in my ear, like a hallelujah song. For many years, I waited to hear that! I yearned to get a compliment like that not from anyone else but from my own mother.
I receive a few compliments from friends, teachers, and mentors, like “you’re good at this, you’re good at that, you’re quite charming (ahem!).” They give an extra boost in my self-confidence, which occupy a special place in my heart. I think it is an affirmation that somehow, I have done something worthy of praise or at least something that pleased a soul.
But to hear an appreciation from my mother for the first time in my life was beyond words.
I had won a few contests before but it was all for self-fulfillment, for fun. Every time I bring home a winning trophy, the feeling of cloud nine would only last for a day or two. While every time I remember those unexpected sweet words from my mother, I become a little kid who has found his carefree crib where he could lay all his worries away.
To be appreciated “You’re so good!” even if it wasn’t my best, even if I felt devastated of my error meant the whole universe to me. I was appreciated not because of what I did but because I was loved. I was loved not for what I had done, but for who I am.
“But I don’t understand most of the things you were saying. It’s in English. Nosebleed!” I was in the moment and my mother was ruining it! My mother was a potential humorist!“By the way, son, I never abandoned you!”