I've been helping my grandmother to shower for the last few days as part of my shift duties. We're in between maids at the moment and the new maid will only arrive later this week. In the meantime, my aunties and I are taking turns to go on shift duties.
Don't be mistaken. Grandma, who is a perfectly healthy 90 years old lady, is capable of taking care of herself but she does need that little help.
Like holding the shower head whilst she cleans herself (vigorously too, I must add), helping her to take off and put on her clothes etc.
Standing behind her, seeing her wrinkled body, a strange feeling came over me.
I remember the countless times when she bathed me when I was very young. Grandma is 50 years older than me, so I guess she would have been in her 50's when she appears in my earliest memory.
My grandmother is a very strong woman.
She has to be.
She arrived in Singapore when she was in her early 20's. I don't know much about her hisory, only that she came in search of her husband, my grandfather. Like most early Chinese migrants then, they didn't have much money and had to work hard. Through the Japanese occupation and poverty years, she raised 6 children pretty much alone. You have to be strong to do that.
I remember her temper.. her flashing eyes when she got angry, her loud voice (she still has a very loud voice. I think it runs in the family), her sturdy body. I especially remember the few rare times when I was caned by her.
But I also remember her holding my hand as we crossed the road, buying toys for me at the 'pasar malam', and cooking my favourite food.
Then, grandma to me was a formidable woman. At times, I was even a little afraid of her. But I could always depend on her.
When did it start to be the other way round? When did she start to depend on me instead?
Where once she held my tiny hands in hers and coaxed me to see the doctor, now I hold her hands rough hands in mine when I bring her to the hospital for check-ups.
Where once she bathed me in a little tub, now I help her to shower whilst she sit on a stool in the bathroom.
Where once she would whipped up a few delicious dishes for lunch, now I help to put the food in a plate for her.
Where once she would hide her modesty by closing the door to change, now she couldn't care less that I could see every inch of her wrinkled, naked body.
Where once her word was law, now she listens to me.
In my teens, I used to feel so embarrassed to be seen together with her, wild horses couldn't drag me to go out with her. And yet for the last 15 years or so, I've been on holidays with her almost every year. She's been to Shanghai, Beijing, Su Zhou, Hang Zhou and Hong Kong etc.
When did this relationhip change?
I don't know either.
A person reverts back to childlike behaviour and thinking as one gets older. I guess now, grandma is the 'baby' and I'm the adult.
I'm not sure how grandma feels about this reversal of relationship. If you are a child, and you depend on adults, you don't mind because well, you don't understand and know much. But when you do know and understand, it's a little more difficult, isn't it?
In truth, I feel a little emotional and there is a slight tug in my heart as I write this and remember all those years long ago...which really, wasn't too long ago.
I'm not too sure what that little tug is for and who it is for.
Perhaps at the passage of time.
Perhaps at the the inevitable that will happen one day.
The Circle Game
by Joni Mitchell
Yesterday a child came out to wonder
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
Were captive on the carousel of time
We cant return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game