May 12, 2014

    The Princess and the Yeti

    MY MOTHER called from Britain. So I immediately knew it was serious.

    Always aware of the international charges involved, she rarely calls Singapore from England. A death in the family is not always a good enough reason to call.

    She once sent a WhatsApp message that read: "Call me. Someone just died."

    In truth, the deceased was a very distant relative I had met only twice and, perhaps, not worth the IDD rates, but it should give an indication of my dread whenever my mother does actually call.

    With a degree of trepidation, I answered the phone.

    "You didn't shave, did you?" she shouted down the line. "How many times do I have to tell you, when you meet royalty, you shave!"

    My mother thinks she is qualified to give advice on meeting royalty because her hairdresser is a drag queen.

    He is a rather successful drag queen. The trouble is, he favours a rather outdated hairstyle that makes him look like Rod Stewart. And whenever my mother leaves the hair salon, so does she.

    "And you didn't brush your hair," she continued. "What is it with you and hair brushing and shaving? You think the Princess wants to shake hands with a lanky Yeti?"

    That is my mother.

    She glossed over what I assumed might be the more pertinent aspect of the story, that her eldest son had been invited to an event organised by Fauna and Flora International - a non-profit conservation charity - at the National Orchid Garden to discuss ways of saving the Sumatran tiger.

    The guest of honour was Her Royal Highness Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands and, when we were introduced, the Princess said: "Ah, we are both children's book authors."

    And I blurted out: "So you're a competitor then."

    That is my mother's son.

    We are cut from the same sarcastic cloth.

    But my mother and my daughter had both insisted that I get a photograph with the Princess, for entirely different reasons of course.

    My mother wanted to show off her son mixing with royalty to her drag-queen friend.

    My daughter hoped that I might join the Dutch Princess in a duet of Let It Go.

    She demanded a photo of me, Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands and a snowman called Olaf standing in front of a snow palace.

    I did consider asking the Princess if she would sing Do You Wanna Build A Snowman, but figured it might look a bit weird at the top of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

    So my daughter did not get a princess from Frozen. And I got the cold shoulder from my mother.

    "I can't show this photo to anyone," she complained. "She's a proper princess and you look like a proper pauper."

    "Don't you think that's a bit much, mum? It's just a bit of stubble."

    "It's like watching The Lady And The Tramp. What do I always say? Don't embarrass me."

    That is her favourite line. If I was the next man on the moon, she would say: "When you step off that lunar ladder, don't embarrass me."

    And the irony is, of course, she frequently embarrasses me. Like all parents, she is a perennial source of public humiliation.

    When I was a kid, she embarrassed me when she waddled down the street, chasing away a school bully in a cooking apron and carpet slippers (my mother, not the school bully).

    She embarrassed me when she covered me in green food dye and entered me for a fancy dress competition as The Incredible Hulk, hanging a cardboard sign around my neck that read: "If you think I'm skinny now, you should see me when I'm white."

    You just cannot treat a son like that when he is about to get married.

    But she did all this, of course, for me. She always wants to give me every chance. That is why she fussed over that photograph with the Princess. She wanted her boy to look his best for royalty.

    That is what our mothers do. They fuss. They fret. They interfere. That is why we love them. That is why I love all mothers (in a healthy way, there is no need for a restraining order).

    So here's to a happy Mother's Day for each and every one of you. I hope you are surrounded and spoilt rotten by loved ones.

    My mother is overseas, of course, but I will still pick up the phone.

    We always find time for each other during the occasions that really matter: births, marriages and whenever I have not shaved.