The other night, I was having dinner in a Chinese restaurant with some friends. As we were seated, the waitress hustled up to the table and asked if we wanted tea. John piped up and ordered pu-erh. And before I knew it, I blurted out, “Oh no, I can’t have that tea, I won’t be able to sleep tonight if I drink that.”
I swear, the entire table swivelled around to look at me.
“I’m sorry,” John said eventually, “but did we invite your father to dinner?”
And there it was. The comment that no child ever wants to hear. Finally, that moment I’ve been dreading for years had arrived – the confirmation that I was turning into my parents.
As children, we used to laugh when our parents sat down after dinner in front of a TV and within a few minutes, they’d be snoring. Or they’d barge into our rooms and yell at us to turn down the music.
“What are you listening to?” my father would always complain. “That’s not music! It’s just noise!”
“Don’t you talk back to me!” Mother would warn, her eyes narrowing to slits. “You young people have no respect for your elders!”
And for years, we listened to our parents moan in the morning that they’d not slept a wink after drinking Chinese tea at dinner the night before. By which they meant they’d only slept seven hours instead of their usual ten.
“Never again!” they swore to each other as they trudged through the day bleary eyed and then had to take a nap in the afternoon to recover from their sleep deprivation. Meanwhile, my brother, sister and I somehow managed to survive on five hours of sleep and still packed in a full day of school, socialising and late night dancing.
“God, is that what happens when you get old?” my sister remarked with the flippant insolence of youth.
The other day, she called me and said that she’d just gotten off the bus. “My God, I just had to call and tell you this. There was a kid on the bus and he just sat there while this little old lady struggled to stay on her feet next to him. So I said to him, ‘Hey, kid, show some respect! Get up for your elders!’ And as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realised that I was channelling Mother! Oh my God, I’m turning into her!”
I told her to relax because I’d already turned into our father. “It’s actually not that bad,” I said. “It’s a great perspective. I finally understand why he was always so agitated by us.”
Sharyn says that it wasn’t till she had children of her own that she finally began getting along with her own mother.
“Before, hor, I always argue argue argue with my mard-der. Anything she say, I argue,” she told me the other day, her spectacles fogging up as she started to tear. “But then, hor, when I have my children, I sar-denly realise, wah, I know why she always so gun-zheong!”
“Oh my God, that’s what I said to my sister!” I exclaimed. “Not the bit about having my own children, because I don’t, but that gun-zheong bit!”
“Yah, lah, it’s also because you are older! You start to see the world the same way! Now, hor, my mard-der and me, we are best fren! If she scold me, I turn around and scold my children!”
Saffy says she’s never heard of anything more horrific in her life. The idea of turning into her mother in any way fills her with terror. “She is so incredibly bossy!” she vented a few days ago. “Every little thing I do, she’ll find something negative to say. It’s why I only see her in a group now. That way, she can’t let loose the way she normally would. Amanda, that lipstick is not the right shade for you! Especially not with that outfit.”
Amanda paused on her way out of the bathroom. “But it’s Chanel!”
Amanda sighed and turned back into the bathroom.
Saffy turned to me. “So, what was I saying? Oh yes, my bossy mother. The other day, she said to me…”
Meanwhile, my slow transformation into my father continues. This morning, I found myself complaining about the loud music blaring through our neighbour’s window. “What rubbish are they listening to?” I asked Amanda who gave me a funny look.
“It’s Lady Gaga!”
I listened. “Ugh, that’s not music! That’s just noise!”
I heard my father’s voice even as I was saying it. But I think I’m OK with that. At least I’m not turning into my mother.