After becoming a mother, not only did she have more white hair, she also became forgetful, could hardly get enough sleep, and was always filled with inexplicable apprehension. As her roles in the family and also at the workplace changed, her sense of loss became more acute. “Such changes and feelings have long existed even before the virus outbreak.” I am yet to become a mother, but as a woman, even without finishing Kim Ji-young: Born 1982, I felt a need to address the question: How do women survive motherhood?
As I was pondering the question, I saw those twenty flying birds.
Though four months have passed since the arrival of 2020, time has seemingly been paused for some people since last June, and smiles on their face have since felt out of place. As a humble yet determined way to introduce some positive vibes, Okaymama, the founder of Taiwan’s free monthly webzine, Webzine for Mums Every Month, together with Hong Kong illustrator Koey, have released a year 2020 calendar, namely Be a Swan But Don’t Despair. (Editor’s notes: “swan” and “dismay” share the same pronunciation in Mandarin.)
In the time of pandemic, we are all being forced to do nothing; no travel abroad, no school, no… All of a sudden, we have been gifted with the time to be idle, which many of us have yearned for. But then, even when presented with such time, we get uncomfortable. Does that sound correct?
Okaymama: My pregnancy resulted in a life-or-death situation. I feel so very lucky to have survived it, and as a result I cherish everything that I have now. Of course, at the very beginning, I was just like any ordinary parents, taking pictures of my son like a lunatic and writing blogs to record every moment I spent with him. On the other hand, I was worried that my body would shut down again, and I felt that if I was going to leave him, I needed to ensure he received all of my love. As if to say, I want to be a better person who is more patient, empathetic, and generally positive; so that my child can grow up and be influenced by such behaviors.
Webzine for Mums Every Month was born because of this, as was the Mother’s Calendar. At this current time that allows us to do “nothing,”, it turns out that as long as you want to become a better mother, magic will happen. Soon after launching, I began to feel that “Doing Nothing is Really Okay” has many unique and even personal levels of meanings.
Okaymama: “Doing Nothing is Really Okay” can also be read as “If time passes too quick, just unplug some batteries!” To all mothers, doing nothing or doing what you like is perfectly fine.
Koey: I’m touched by Okaymama’s stories and ideas, and that made me happy and felt at ease while illustrating. It’s not easy to be a mother; from the moment you get pregnant, your life no longer belongs solely to you. You dedicate your time and freedom to your child and family, and you might even forget about yourself without meaning to. Last year, the feeling of powerlessness weighed heavy on me; then later on, this Taiwanese girl who had been following my work for six years contacted me to tell me that she likes my illustrations. As an amateur artist, hearing this made me feel quite happy and proud of myself that not only could my art inspire others, but that I could still manage to make time for myself to do my own thing.
“Doing Nothing” is actually something; we don’t have to worry about wasting time when we’re listening to the wind, looking at the sea, and sipping coffee alone, as we’re doing something amazing, and that is “taking a break”. Unplugging the battery is one thing, taking it to charge is another thing. Hold on, just hold on, everything will be better, and we will meet again.
Despair is such a heavy word, and I wonder how it feels to be in despair? What had happened that led them to put down such a title for the Mother’s Calendar, “How do you interpret ‘despair’?”
As if I could actually see Okaymama’s deep sigh: Once my child and I were infected with the norovirus, and we kept throwing up. But what my husband could only see from the video recording of me and my child was that I slapped my child on the butt. I was obviously struggling to survive, but once again, I fell deep into this bottomless pit; it is so easy to feel despair on a daily basis after becoming a mother. To exaggerate, the feeling was like, “let us mother and son wait for death together please”. I was so terribly unwell already, how could I stay strong for other people? The despair of coming to a dead end was overwhelming.
Koey: I can imagine how easy it is for a mother to fall into the darkness. Everyone has expectations for themselves, but they don’t necessarily give themselves a pass. To me, despair is that my life is meaningless and exhausting. I can’t do or can’t do well in what I want to do, or that I don’t want to do what I need to do. I am trying my best to live my life, but it turns out that nothing is achieved, and that I am confined by reality with no freedom.
Everyone has a different definition of “despair”. It is a feeling, an emotion of that specific moment. It can’t be held up for comparison, and it’s not necessary to simply accept it. But if we can both understand that vulnerable feeling of “I don’t want to do anything”, why don’t we give each other a hug? And when a hug is not appropriate, maybe our Mother’s Calendar can bring a little comfort to the both of us? To you, the mother out there, pat on the back: Be a swan, but don’t despair. Interpret however you want, everything will be better.
“So what does a swan stand for? Is it freedom?” I want to know whether swan stands for the mother or the child.
Okaymama: I think swan is very elegant. We came up with the title, Be a Swan But Don’t Despair,from an illustration of a swan. When I first started the Webzine for Mums Every Month, there were multiple occasions that have pushed me off. But then some mothers sent me messages saying that they needed such amusement and comfort in their lives. I decided then that I shouldn’t stop since it had already started. I wanted to let all the mothers out there to know that they shouldn’t live a small life because they have children.
Okaymama: You know what? At first, we were inspired to illustrate a cute swan-shaped cloud where mothers can sit while sipping tea. In November, we were actually heading down that path, “Hiding in the Cloud: Time for a Cup of Tea”. There are these inevitable obstacles in life that mothers need to overcome, and if there really was such a big swan cloud, maybe mothers could finally feel at ease there, both physically and mentally. However, at that time, Hong Kong was experiencing ongoing social unrest due to the anti-extradition issues, and there was so much upsetting news. As a mother, I was very very worried for the young kids who took to the streets, and I also feared for the safety of Koey. It is that kind of dilemma that on the one hand I was very anxious, but on the other hand I was so afraid to disturb her working.
Koey: Although I haven’t gotten married nor have a child, I very much agree that “being a mother is the best thing in my life.” I still feel that I am not capable of taking care of a child, but paradoxically, the more time I spend with Stinky Bug, my brother’s child, the more joy I think a family with children could have because it is such a wonderful thing to witness a child’s growth. Last night my dad and Stinky Bug were dancing in the room, and I thought it is moments like this that would make me feel blessed to have a child.
One side of the Mother’s Calendar shows an illustration of twenty birds spreading their wings and flying high. Even after 2020, this will not “expire”. The swan in the middle wearing a red painter hat carries a girl with a hot drink in her hand. I realised later on that the swan could be a child; a child taking his mother on an adventure, and that journey started when pregnancy began. And hey! I am also my mother’s swan.