‘No matter how big you are, you are still my baby’ said the mother of a 30-year old columnist to her son – so he claimed in one of his weekly contributions to my newspaper. What surprised me is that he seems to be Chinese; he has a Chinese name. Now, although I had a Chinese aunt (and 2 half-Chinese cousins), and relatively recently acquired a Chinese niece (by marriage), I cannot claim to know the culture of the expatriate Chinese.
Why does that expression of a mother’s love then surprise me? Because, in my family, as well as in the extended family, while love, care and protection were clearly manifest in attitude and bearing, I heard no words of love, and saw no cuddles directed to those little ones who had grown from babyhood to childhood. Yet, all babies were normally thoroughly spoilt as they lay on their mats on the floor, while one woman or another oiled, cuddled and otherwise fussed over them – day after day!
I do believe that this expressed love inculcates a subconscious sense of self-confidence. I certainly did not notice the lack of words of affection, petting or cuddling. Naturally, I do not remember the expressed love during my babyhood.
It was only after my first-born arrived, and the behaviour of my wife to our child, that I learnt to express my deep love for the little bundle who represented an extension of the woman I loved. It was only then that I realised that I had grown up in a no-touch family. Such a family exists within a no-touch cultural tradition operating in all the Asian societies to which I have been exposed.
Yet, there is no denying the close bond within my birth family. This then extended to our cousins and, later, to the successor generation. As well, a customary communitarian underlay offers an intangible bond with others in the clan. Such a relationship is likely to be beyond the purview of the nuclear family-based culture of the Western world.
Yet, it would be nice to be able to remember being cuddled as a child as I was growing up.